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Dozens Targeted in Chicago Corruption Probe

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Chicago school officials announced plans last week to fire or discipline 44 district employees as part of their effort to rid the system of corruption.

Background checks turned up employees with prior convictions for child abduction, drug possession, and other felonies. And undercover investigations into ongoing activities uncovered theft of district property and, in one case, assault on a student.

Among those fired or disciplined were 14 teachers and four principals. Some face criminal charges as a result of the investigations.

The 416,000-student district has stepped up its personnel investigations since a mayorally appointed management team took over last year. Paul Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, indicated last week that the crackdown was just beginning.

There are more than 100 other investigations of employees under way, said Jerry Marconi, a lawyer for the district, the nation's third largest.

Moreover, the district was also poised last week to announce that it would tighten its hold on up to 40 low-performing schools that have been watched closely by state education officials.

Mr. Vallas was expected late last week to name the schools and order them to create improvement plans, officials said.

The announcements were the latest in a round of reforms launched by Mr. Vallas and his colleagues since they were appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley to run the district last year. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1995.)

"This is an administration that is very fast-moving," Jackie Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers' Union, said last week. "We've been run by a stagnant administration for too long."

'Aggressive Approach'

Ms. Gallagher said the union supports the district's efforts to weed out wrongdoing in the system, "as long as it does not put so many restrictions [on employees] that it makes them uncomfortable at work."

The large number of employees targeted was due in large part to the district's new office of investigations, which has even begun sting operations against employees suspected of crimes.

In addition, the district's office of inspector general and its bureau of safety and security have intensified their efforts. The district is also expected to hire a private company to begin routine fingerprinting of all potential employees.

The state law that gave Mayor Daley more control over the schools also made it easier for the district to fire employees, by changing some of the guidelines for holding hearings. And district policies now give principals more room to discipline employees in their schools.

"In the past, because of the sheer volume, it was difficult to promptly address all the complaints and cases" involving school workers, Mr. Marconi added. "Now we're taking a more aggressive approach."

The district planned last week to fire about a dozen of the 44 employees, some of whom were caught on videotape, according to the district. Among them are:

  • A gym teacher who attacked a student with a hockey stick after the student's basketball strayed into the other half of the gym. The teacher struck the student in the presence of a uniformed Chicago police officer.
  • A security monitor who was convicted for stealing three television sets from a school, which he told authorities were later traded for crack cocaine. The employee also admitted staging a burglary at the school to cover up his crime.
  • A substitute teacher who had been convicted in Minnesota of possessing more than five kilograms of heroin. The teacher is awaiting federal sentencing.
  • A custodial worker who was captured on videotape taking money from a teacher's desk.
  • A principal at a city high school that had numerous financial irregularities.

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