This story is courtesy of the Better Government Association:
Administrator at Gold Coast school is “reassigned” after internal investigation confirms inappropriate out-of-town spending with taxpayer money.
The Ogden International School web site boasts of “a distinctive, high-quality international education which cultivates intellectual inquiry and global engagement.”
Translation: Students and staff at the Chicago public school – which handles pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on two campuses, at 24 W. Walton and 1250 W. Erie – take out-of-country excursions to further their learning.
But Ogden Principal Kenneth Staral was recently “reassigned” after an internal investigation found he allegedly used taxpayer money inappropriately during school-sanctioned trips, officials said.
Meanwhile, Assistant Principal Anthony Vandarakis also faces discipline for the way he handled spending and reimbursements for various school supplies, officials said.
The investigation – conducted by the Chicago Public Schools inspector general, the in-house watchdog – was prompted by a 2011 Better Government Association/FOX 32 report that raised questions about Staral’s use of a school district credit card.
The BGA/FOX report found Staral racked up roughly $17,000 in credit card charges in France, Serbia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Bahrain, South Korea and Mexico in 2009 and 2010.
Some of the expenses were high-end – which is especially troubling given the financial plight of CPS, with some schools so broke there aren’t always enough books or other supplies to go around.
According to the 2011 BGA/FOX report, Staral “spent hundreds of Chicago Public School dollars at a famous Serbian restaurant in Belgrade and on expensive meals at Michelin-rated restaurants in Lyon, France. In Prague, he stayed at the Ventana – a self-described ‘five star luxury boutique hotel.’ And while his exchange students in Belgrade were sleeping in hostels or staying with families, Staral roomed in a luxury hotel in the heart of the city.”
The BGA and FOX also found “charges for pubs in England, what appears to be a casino in Belgrade, and even The Caviar House in London, which boasts selling the world’s finest caviar.”
“And then there’s the travel around the United States, including limos in New York, dinner at a restaurant and nightclub in Washington, D.C., and a charge at a Los Angeles liquor store the district says was for snacks.”
“Staral also spent big bucks at home in Chicago: $1,200 at Gibsons in the Gold Coast hosting students and officials from other countries and $1,400 for a single gathering at Hugo’s Frog Bar next door.”
Neither Staral nor Vandarakis could be reached for comment.
CPS Inspector General James Sullivan said in an interview: “I can confirm we did an investigation about some financial irregularities involving the Ogden School administration and that’s really about it, I’m going to hold off [further comment] until the disciplinary process has taken place.”
CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said via email: “Ogden International Principal Kenneth Staral and Assistant Principal Anthony Vandarakis have been reassigned from the school at this time. This is a confidential personnel matter that cannot be discussed further.”
A source told the BGA that the inspector general found instances of excessive or otherwise inappropriate spending by Staral on school trips. The inspector general found that Vandarakis wasn’t following rules in how school supplies were purchased, the source said.
A meeting was held Tuesday night at Ogden’s Walton building to brief parents on the “transition of administration.”
CPS officials would not say whether the reassignment of Staral and Vandarakis was permanent, or whether further discipline was possible.
Staral is paid more than $140,000 a year. Vandarakis’s salary is about $100,000 annually.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and Patrick Rehkamp, and FOX 32’s Dane Placko. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9030.