East St. Louis Schools Make Consultants Cash Money Millionaires

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It's never a good sign when a public agency refuses to turn over financial information for a newspaper's public records request. Logic says if there's nothing to hide, then why not hand over the data as required by law?

Since East St. Louis School District 189 purportedly ducked, dodged and denied requests filed under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, it comes as no surprise that the Belleville News-Democrat uncovered millions of dollars in questionable spending by district administrators.

According to an investigative report by Maria Baran and George Pawlaczyk published yesterday, the schools, which are largely funded by federal tax dollars, spent $3.1 million on consultants from 2005 to 2010, including $240,000 per year for a computer network administrator.

Naturally, the school district argues that the consultants are "very necessary." But the former chairman of a panel that monitored the district's spending for nearly a decade is quoted as saying that the money is "being used so that administrators, teachers and other employees can go on junkets and get these big checks for consulting contracts."

And what about the funny business with the FOIA requests? Here's what the BND said in their story:
District officials claimed they gave the newspaper copies of the contracts for all the consultants paid by the school district, but they didn't.

While district officials provided a list of 130 consultants, the envelope handed to a reporter by a school district security guard on March 11 at the East St. Louis School District headquarters contained only 51 contracts.

Since that time, the newspaper independently confirmed through public financial documents for the academic years 2005-06 and 2006-07 that additional contracts existed.
Click here to read the whole story for a classic example of why bureaucracy is often more opaque than it is transparent.


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