Rhodes revives DPS inspector general’s office

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

The Office of the Inspector General for Detroit Public Schools has been re-established by emergency manager Steven Rhodes, after it was eliminated last year.

The office, which investigates and audits suspected waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct in the district, was established in 2013, and former emergency manager Darnell Earley, closed it in 2015.

“All employees, staff, contractors, vendors, agents and representatives of the School District are hereby and hereafter ordered to immediately report all instances of suspected waste, fraud and abuse to the Inspector General of the School District to the fraud hotline, 313-870-3436 and/or by email at inspectorgeneral@detroitk12.org,” Rhodes wrote in an order last week re-establishing the IG’s office.

The decision to reopen the office comes as 14 people, many of them current and former DPS principals, have been charged in a $1 million bribery and kickback scheme in the district. The first of the 14, Clara Smith, former principal at Thirkell Elementary School, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Prosecutors have reached plea deals with 11 of the other defendants, who are accused by federal investigators of taking money from school supplies vendor Norman Shy.

The FBI has been investigating DPS for the last two years after a tip from state auditors led them to an unrelated corruption case at the Education Achievement Authority, the state-created reform district that includes low-performing schools transferred from DPS.

Bernadette Kakooza, who headed the office until it was disbanded, will lead investigations into suspected fraud and waste, according to the district. Michelle Zdrodowski, a DPS spokeswoman, said Kakooza will report directly to Rhodes, who was named to lead the district March 1.

In a letter to then-emergency manager Jack Martin in June 2014, Kakooza wrote: “Since onset in March 2009, the OIG has conducted hundreds of investigations, and identified millions in monetary benefits to the District. As result of OIG investigations, district employees found to have engaged in wrongdoing have been referred for internal discipline and/or prosecution.”

In a statement released by the district, Rhodes said restoring the IG’s position shows he is committed to ensuring transparency in the state’s largest school district.

“It is important to understand that part of the process of a fresh start is cleaning house and taking responsibility for the actions that have led to the insolvency and the other challenges that DPS has faced and fixing them,” Rhodes said. “This is part of the process. Everyone should understand that as long as I’m at DPS, nothing will be concealed or swept under the rug.”

Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, praised Rhodes’ decision to revive the IG.

“I really couldn’t understand why the office was eliminated in the first place,” she said. “I hope whomever is in charge fairly investigates and audits all suspected waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct throughout the district in a timely manner. I would like to see all information shared with the public.”


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