Twelve current and former principals, administrators, and a vendor have found themselves enmeshed in Detroit's campaign to eliminate school corruption after being charged with involvement in a roughly $1 million bribery and kickback racket that involved school supplies that were not actually delivered or were only partially delivered.
Norman Shy, 74, of Franklin, Michigan and owner of Allstate Sales, is alleged to be the ringleader of the scheme and is accused of paying the kickbacks and bribes to at least 12 Detroit Public Schools principals who bought school supplies from Shy in exchange for money.
Allegations say that Shy has done this for 13 years and has scammed schools out of $2.7 million, along with support from principals who pocketed their share along the way.
Already in serious financial trouble, the Detroit Public School district is the largest district in the state, and possibly the most troubled in the country. It continues to be under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager who took over in 2009. The district has an operating deficiency of at least $515 million and even more in pension obligations.
Lawmakers passed an emergency funding measure last week for $48.7 million to keep DPS from running out of money at the beginning of April. The Legislature also authorized a financial review commission to oversee the district's finances.
"This is exactly why House Republicans were so adamant that strong fiscal oversight be a prerequisite to any additional state funding for Detroit's corrupt and broken school administration," said Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) in a news release Tuesday. "And it is why we will continue to insist that strong financial and academic reforms be a part of any long-term solution to decades of DPS failures."
The case was a real "punch in the gut," said US Attorney Barbara McQuade, who also advised reporters of the sweeping changes about to take place. She added that the changes had nothing to do with the financial status of DPS, but are instead about 14 people who breached the trust of the school district.
Former principal Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp was indicted after a two-year-old audit of a state-formed agency that was supposed to have been overseeing the most troubled Detroit schools. Snapp has agreed to cooperate with the government prosecutors against the other defendants.
The kickbacks were in the form of gift cards, cash, and payments to contractors who put a new roof on the house of Clara Flowers, 61, an assistant superintendent of DPS's Office of Specialized Student Services. She also received free house painting and new gutters, and sometimes her money went to a travel agency she owned.
Detroit teachers have organized several sickouts to protest their miserable work conditions, including crumbling, dirty buildings, and rat infestations. Along with that, the district has been among the lowest schools nationwide for standardized test scores.
Dana Ford of CNN quoted a parent:
"To hear this is just another slap in the face," DPS parent John Wills told CNN affiliate WDIV. "We've been robbed blind."
The real victims, said McQuade, are the students and families who are in the Detroit system. Also victimized are those educators who are trying to make a difference in DPS children's lives.
Another person implicated was Ronald Alexander, who was principal of Spain Elementary-Middle School. The school he administered was recently chosen by Ellen DeGeneres to receive a gift of $500,000.
The money was donated by Lowe's chain of home-improvement stores to be used to improve the school, with $50,000 going toward new computers. Every member of the staff and all teachers at the school will receive a $100 Visa gift card.