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Planned Audit May Be Band-Aid for ‘Corrupt’ System

Submitted on Thu, 02/21/2008 – 14:08.

A call by Chicago’s Better Government Association for an audit of Chicago Public Schools magnet school applications was heeded this week.  But the watchdogs aren’t satisfied.

Sabin Magnet School Principal Barton Dassinger blew the whistle on 12 cases of application fraud at his school earlier this year.  Parents and one clerk at the school falsely claimed student applicants had siblings already attending the school, increasing the prospective students’ chances of enrollment.

Sandra Alverio, a former Sabine clerk, resigned last year, denying allegations she put her niece’s name as a sibling on student’s applications to the school.  Some parents admitted to fudging applications to Sabin without intervention by Alverio.

After calling the incident isolated, Chicago Public Schools said no inquiry would take place regarding application fraud.  Two days later, after calls from the Better Government Association to do so, Chicago Public Schools said they would perform a random audit several undisclosed magnet schools.

Michael Vaughn, Chicago Public School’s press secretary, confirmed the forthcoming audit Wednesday, Feb. 13. Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association, was not convinced the planned audit would go far enough. He was concerned about the timing of the audit.  A widely publicized audit of applications may serve as a warning to school officials and parents to avoid impropriety in the application process for one year, but he said he doubts it will clean up any widespread fraud that may be occurring.

“Who’s going to do the follow-up?” Stewart asked.

The audit will review whether applicants’ assertions of having siblings at a school are accurate.  Such a connection enables prospective students to participate in a “sibling lottery.”  The audit will also examine whether applicants live within 1.5 miles of the school, a requirement for participation in the “proximity lottery.”

The audit will not look at the 5 percent of students admitted at a principal’s discretion, another area worth investigating according to Stewart.

Stewart also advocated including a parent verification signature area on the application.  At selective enrollment schools, parents must affirm the information on the application is correct, but magnet schools do not have that requirement.

Vaughn said such suggestions are under consideration.  A “boxed statement” which would require a parent’s signature to verify that the information on the application is correct and true is “something which we’re looking at doing,” said Vaughn.

Vaughn said the audit will occur over the next few months and will be run by the Office of Academic Enhancement.

Stewart criticized the source of the audit.  He compared Chicago Public Schools’ investigating its own schools to the proverbial fox watching the hen house.

Despite such objections, the Illinois State Board of Education would have little investigatory control.  Though the State Board did not return calls for comment, John Lyday, associate executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said the culture of education would likely be a barrier to a state audit.

“Local control is a venerated part of Illinois, and frankly national, education; magnet schools exist at the discretion of an independent school district,” Lyday said, explaining that how to organize and operate magnet schools remains the decision of individual municipalities.

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