THURSDAY, SEPT. 1, 2011
CHICAGO — Here's a Chicago Public Schools math problem: a system hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, inner-city schools so strapped teachers are digging into their own pockets for supplies, yet on the Gold Coast there's a principal spending thousands to trot around the globe in luxury.
Does that add up?
Ogden International School Principal Kenneth Staral, who makes $142,000 per year, created an international studies program at the neighborhood school several years ago to teach students about countries, cultures and issues around the world. That program has since expanded to a high school on the Near West Side.
But take a look at Staral's school credit card, and you may wonder who's really benefiting from all that world travel.
According to records obtained by FOX Chicago News and the Better Government Association, Staral's card was used on a dozen trips outside the United States between January of 2009 and June of 2010, racking up nearly $17,000 in credit card charges in France, Serbia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Bahrain, South Korea, and Mexico.
And when the principal travels, he travels in style.
Staral has 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.
We 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 Gibson's 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.
Tim Cawley, the new chief administrator for CPS, said the district tightened up its credit card policy last year following the death of former School Board President Michael Scott, whose credit card use was being investigated. Cawley said he's considering tearing up all the district's credit cards.
"These are tough fiscal times and every dollar needs to be spent on doing the things that are helping children," he said. "And it's not clear how a nice dinner at a Gibson's helps the children at the school of Ogden."
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the globe-trotting principal should reimburse the schools, since teachers could use more help paying for school supplies.
"You will find across the city that teachers spend on average $1,500 a year on school supplies out of their own pocket," she said.
This story was written and reported by BGA Editor of Investigations Robert Herguth, BGA Senior Investigator Patrick Rehkamp, and FOX Chicago's Dane Placko. Contact us with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at email@example.com.