Parents trust that when they send their kids to school, the children will be taught in a safe environment conducive to learning and will be surrounded by people who have only their best interests at heart.
In 2015, parents who sent their children to school in the Detroit Public School system were horrified to learn that the schools were anything but safe or conducive to learning. To make matters worse, parents discovered that the people in charge of those schools were actually contributing to the neglect and disrepair…
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
In early February 2016, audience members of ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ heard about the deplorable conditions students at a public school in Detroit, Michigan, were being exposed to while they were trying to get an education.
A School In Need
During the show, Ellen explained that the Charles L. Spain Elementary-Middle School was in disrepair. Practically none of the technology worked, ceiling tiles regularly fell out during the school day, and the roof was collapsing in some parts of the school…
A Dangerous Environment
The state of the school had gotten so bad that students were forced to have their gym classes in the hallways. “The odorous smell of mold and mildew hits you like a brick wall when you step through the front doors at Spain Elementary-Middle School in Detroit,” school counselor Lakia Wilson explained.
Neglect And Indifference
“Today, it’s the poster child for neglect and indifference to a quality teaching and learning environment for our 500 students. The gym is closed because half of the floor is buckled and the other half suffered so much rainwater damage from the dripping ceiling that it became covered with toxic black mold,” Wilson said about the issues plaguing the school…
According to the teachers at the school, exposed wires hang from the ceilings of classrooms, and because the heating and cooling systems didn’t work, the children were forced to sit in freezing classrooms in the winters and strip off layers to keep from overheating in hot weather. “How can you teach or learn in conditions like these,” Wilson said.
Lack Of Funding
According to the school counselor, who started working at Charles L. Spain Elementary-Middle School almost 2 decades prior, the school used to be a place she was proud to work at. Over the years, however, the school started to suffer like most other schools in the area thanks to the troubled Detroit public school system, which was more than $3 billion in debt…
To help the school with repairs and purchasing new equipment for the students, Ellen gave Ronald Alexander, the then 60-year-old principal of the dilapidated school, a $500,000 donation to the school from Lowe’s.
In addition to the half a million dollar donation, Justin Bieber surprised the school with Ellen and told the overwhelmed principal and teachers that $1 from every ticket sold for his concert in the area would also be donated to the school…
The Happiest Principal On Earth
“Of all the people in the whole world, I am the happiest principal on Earth. I love you! I love you again! This is the best,” said Principal Alexander, who worked at the school for over 2 decades and everyone described as “the most amazing man.”
1 Month Later
In March 2016, about a month after the episode aired, however, it was revealed that Alexander and 11 other Detroit principals were part of the problem when the U.S. attorney’s office charged the principals with conspiracy to commit bribery and some were also charged with tax evasion…
According to investigators, the principals were being bribed from 2002 until January 2015 by Norman Shy, the owner of Allstate Sales, a longtime vendor of the Detroit Public Schools that was supposed to be supplying things like chairs, paper, and supplemental teaching materials.
The Fake Orders
In reality, however, the principals were submitting fake invoices to the Detroit Public School district for orders with Allstate Sales. The invoiced would naturally get approved, but Shy would never deliver the supplies ordered…
Returning The Favor
Over the years, Shy was paid $2.7 million from the district for supplies for the school and the students that were never delivered. In return for staying quiet and approving the fake invoices, the principals involved would receive bribes and kickbacks.
In total, the 12 principals received bribes ranging from $4,000 to $194,000. In total, the principals received a combined $908,518 in cash, gift cards, and checks. As a result of the charges, the principals involved were immediately placed on unpaid leave and all business with Shy’s company ceased…
A Punch In The Guts
The district also suspended all purchases by individual schools and announced that purchases and contracts made by the administration would have to be reviewed. “A case like this is a real punch in the gut for those who are trying to do the right thing,” Detroit’s U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said.
The Latest Corruption
The bribery scheme was just the latest corruption the Detroit Public School system has faced as state-appointed emergency managers, who were brought in by the state to try and help the financial crisis, were caught making corrupt deals and taking bribes over the years…
“Public corruption never comes at a good time. This case is not about the Detroit Public Schools. It’s not about emergency managers. It’s about these individuals,” McQuade said. “As a former educator, this case strikes to my very core,” added David P. Gelios, head of the Detroit FBI.
A Reprehensible Act
“To enrich oneself at the expense of school children is bad enough, but to misapply public funds intended to educate kids in a district where overall needs are so deep, funding sources are so strained, and the need for better education is so crucial, is reprehensible and an insult to those educators working every day to make a better future for our children,” Gelios said…
Eventually, however, the 12 principals, Shy, and 1 school administrator were all sentenced. Some arranged plea deals, while others were sentenced to prison and ordered to pay restitution. “These principals, including an Assistant Superintendent, used their positions as educators and leaders to enrich themselves at the expense of their students and the Detroit Public Schools system,” said Gelios.
Committed To The Children
“Today’s sentencing of Principal Josette Buendia, the last in this investigation, should provide a sense of closure for the parents, students and the honest and dedicated DPS employees and underscores this community’s commitment to integrity in the operation of our schools,” Gelios added.