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Chicago Taxpayers Send Teachers To Vegas Resort

BGA and CBS 2 Investigators uncover questionable spending by a Chicago grade school. (Image courtesy 123 Chroma Pixels/Flickr)

By BGA and Dave Savini/CBS 2

February 8, 2011 9:44 AM

CHICAGO — The Chicago Public Schools system is suffering from a $700 million budget shortfall. So why did some educators travel to Las Vegas just days after a travel restriction was ordered?

CBS 2′s Dave Savini and the Better Government Association investigated questionable spending of school tax dollars and how children are impacted.

Former Scammon Elementary School teacher Laura Hoffman is angry that 14 of her Chicago Public School co-workers went on an all-expense paid trip to a Las Vegas resort and spa for a conference last year.

"That’s what happened. Does it make sense? No," Hoffman said. "I think parents need to be aware what is happening."

Hoffman quit her job at Scammon Elementary last year and says school officials should not have spent the $15,000 on the conference in Las Vegas while city schools are hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

The school’s principal, Mary Weaver, went on the trip with her staff and allegedly missed their own school’s report card pick up day.

Hoffman said that time is "the biggest night for teachers to talk with parents."

"A lot of the staff was not there," she said.

Kerry McGuire and Glen Presnell’s children attend Scammon, and they are angry about the Las Vegas trip.

"I totally believe that funds are mismanaged at that school," McGuire said. He said money is not being spent to provide all the services special education students need.

Michael Presnell is one of the students who says he was not getting his services, until his family spent years fighting for them. He says he still is not getting all that he is supposed to get, but he is receiving more than other special education students.

"Some kids — they just ignore them," said the teen, who added that some special education students were simply placed in a room where horrible things happened.

Edwina Meyer was in that room last fall when she says classmates repeatedly engaged in sex acts. Teachers back up her story and say the room lacked proper staffing.

The Better Government Association’s Andy Shaw says action needs to be taken.

"This school needs some kind of intervention quickly to right the ship," he said.

He says the entire Board of Education needs an intervention. An analysis of an internal CPS investigation found hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending by Chicago School Board members.

Tax dollars were spent on champagne costing $125 a bottle; thousands more on limousines, steak lunches and a food and liquor bill from a Soldier Field skybox event that alone cost more than $6,000.

"The Board of Education has to investigate this," Shaw said. "Someone is not doing their job."

In the case of the Las Vegas trip, a CPS spokesman says the conference was required for educational development plans and procedures were followed.

Glen Presnell insists no trips should be taken while students are not getting their services. He says those children are suffering "in more ways than you can imagine."

From various sources, the 2 Investigators obtained internal school records documenting students not getting their legally mandated special education services. Educators say they were either told to alter student records, or someone else altered them, and to say the children received their special education services when they did not.

Chicago Public School officials are launching an internal investigation.

>> To comment on this story, visit CBS 2's website.

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