Sunday, May 31, 2009

Proviso Math & Science Academy Holds First Ever Graduation!!!

The Proviso Math and Science Academy hosted its Inaugural Graduation Ceremony on May 30, 2009 on the campus of Dominican University. The Academy's first class saw 106 students, all headed off to college, graudate in purple and white gowns. Board President Emanuel "Chris" Welch told the graduates that he was happy to declare, "We made it." Welch told the graduates that they all made it together after dreaming about the day for over seven years. Welch told the graduates board members were ridiculed and persecuted for just the idea of creating a third high school. But because the Board chose hope over fear, Welch said they pushed forward with the new high school. Proviso Math and Science Academy graduates received over $5.9 million in scholarships this year. Congratulations Proviso!!!

Proviso West Graduates 525

According to the Proviso Herald, a total of 525 graduates from the Proviso West High School class of 2009 marched in red and white robes at the UIC Pavilion Sunday.

"The kids were well behaved and the families were just jubilant," Principal Alexis Wallace said. "The ceremony was wonderful."

The ceremony lasted two hours and was punctuated by a stirring speech by senior class President Javin Cotton.

"It was so phenomenal. As you listened to him -- he wants to go into education, but it was like listening to a future president," Wallace said. "And the way the students received him. It was unreal."

Wallace said a diploma was awarded to a student who had died of leukemia during the school year.

"We also had a young lady who has sickle cell anemia who had to be helped across the stage," she said. "We wanted to put her in a wheelchair, but she wanted to march. She was so brave. And she did get to march, it was beautiful."

Proviso East Graduates 304

According to the Proviso Herald, Proviso East High School grads remembered Sunday a classmate who was killed one year ago.

The district awarded a diploma to student Tawanna Ford who was shot and killed in June 2008. She was on track to graduate a semester early in December.

Her mother, LaDana Ford, walked on stage at the UIC Pavilion and accepted the diploma for her daughter.

The 2009 graduating class included 304 students, most of whom were robed in blue. The top 10 percent of the class wore white, including the two valedictorians who spoke to their class: Dinishia Wolford and Clameirdre Prince.

Families packed the lower levels of the pavilion.

"This is our fourth graduation at UIC," Principal Milton Patch said. "It's great for parents, you never know what the weather is going to be like. So whether it's too hot outside or there's a rainstorm, this prevents that from happening in the ceremony."

School board President Emanuel "Chris" Welch said he has never missed a graduation in the nine years he has been on the board.

"This was fantastic," he said. "The tradition we started of holding the ceremony at UIC gives students the opportunity to invite more people."

Patch said this graduation was a special one for him as well. "There were several students I had graduate as elementary students in 1988 who wound up graduating with me again in high school," he said.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flowers Uses Taxpayer Money for Personal Fine Dining!!!

According to the Daily Southtown, Charles Flowers isn't the only one charging family trips on the taxpayers' dime.

Instead of an excursion to Mississippi - which Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education Supt. Charles Flowers purchased for his family on the regional office's credit card - Deputy Supt. Harry Reynolds seems to prefer the cool breeze and sandy beaches of San Diego.

More than $1,700 in charges appear on Reynolds' regional office of education credit card in June 2008 for himself and his wife, Calumet School District 132 Supt. Elizabeth Reynolds, and two other family members, according to credit card statements obtained by the SouthtownStar through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Reynolds did not return calls for comment this week.

Reynolds' district-issued card also includes charges to Chicago's theater district, one bill of nearly $100 at Bogart's Charhouse in Homewood, and car rental charges based in Jacksonville, Fla., documents show.

But that's small potatoes compared to the thousands of dollars Flowers spent on meal or food purchases since he took office in July 2007.

Sometimes, he's used the public credit card to eat out as many as four times in one week. The Clubhouse - an Oak Brook restaurant that boasts a luxurious country-club feel - appears to be a favorite. On Dec. 21, 2007, Flowers spent $863 on the fine dining, statements show. Just two months earlier, Flowers dropped $200 on Oct. 21 and was back on Oct. 23 to the tune of $85.97. In April 2008, he returned to charge $326.32. In total, he frequented the eatery - where specialties include sweet chili ginger calamari and pecan crusted tilapia - seven times, statements show.

The array of Oak Brook-area restaurants reflect a sophisticated palate. Flowers charged more than $430 at Wildfire in January of this year, $133 at Maggiano's, $286 at Papadeaux Seafood Kitchen and $89 at Bar Louie to his regional office's credit card.

But it wasn't all upscale cuisine. Flowers also seemed to have a craving for Applebee's, KFC, Panda Express, Potbelly, Portillo's, Panera and Priscilla's Ultimate Soulfood.

In addition to feeding his appetite, Flowers also spent $45 at Yehia and Company Hair Designs, statements show. There were also two separate limousine charges, plenty of purchases at the gas pump, a theater district charge, as well as hotel and rental car payments outlined in Flowers' credit card statements.

Flowers began his tenure with a credit card that had a $5,000 credit limit. That was upped to $10,000, and most recently $20,000.

Flowers did not return calls for comment this week about the credit card charges, nor has he responded to reporters' inquiries about a variety of questionable financial dealings revealed in recent weeks.

A preliminary audit of the office states that Flowers maintains he paid the office back from his personal account but the auditors were unable to confirm that.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Flowers Uses Taxpayer Funds For Trips and Credit Card Advances!!!

The Daily Southtown did a recent follow up on Charles Flowers. Read below:

The Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education - the same office with a reputation of not answering the phone - spent nearly $20,000 on two phone systems in as many years, according to documents.

A preliminary audit of the office obtained by the SouthtownStar reveals a laundry list of questionable financial charges, ranging from airline tickets to Mississippi for Supt. Charles Flowers' family to nearly $2,000 in late fees and finance charges on regional office credit cards to Flowers' nephew - who is employed as an office floater - getting paid to eat lunch.

"Taking his whole family on taxpayer dollars is extremely questionable," said Pat Rehkamp, chief investigator with the Better Government Association.

Two administrators, whom the audit didn't name, collected their $87,644 and $80,628 salaries along with $12,000 and $9,400 for "consulting services" they did during normal working hours, the report shows.

When Flowers took office in July 2007, the office was more than $413,000 in debt. Under Flowers that more than doubled to $941,000 as of June 30, 2008, and he hired family and friends to work for him.

Three months after taking office, Flowers already was taking out cash advances on regional office's credit card, according to the audit.

The office spent $9,300 on a phone system last year - which went to replace an $8,900 phone system purchased only one year earlier, according to the audit.

Auditors initially arrived at the office in October 2008, only to return in December 2008 because the office was not ready the first time around.

Even with the two-month warning, there still were missing credit card statements, receipts and bank statements.

In a few cases, there was paperwork to support purchases but no documentation to prove it related to regional activities.

When mileage reimbursement was incorrectly totaled, it was paid without the correction, the audit stated. Another employee was overpaid when his hours were miscalculated.

The office is on its third business manager since 2007. Three weeks ago, Willie Mack, the director of ethics and fiscal compliance, was laid off, along with Joe Fogarty, a longtime office employee who worked on teacher certification, and Larry Polubinski, who dealt with special education.

Within the past month, the office was nearly two weeks late with paychecks. Earlier this year, employees had their health insurance temporarily canceled because group health insurance payments weren't paid on time.

The most recent round of paychecks were due May 1, but as off Thursday, employees had not been paid.

"On the surface of it, it looks like a classic misuse of taxpayer dollars," Rehkamp said.

Flowers did not return calls for comment.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Former Maywood Trustee Richard Lopez Convicted by Federal Jury...

According to the Chicago Tribune, former Maywood Trustee Richard Lopez was convicted by a federal jury last week. A former union officer and two employees of Teamsters Local 743 were convicted in federal court Friday for rigging two elections in 2004.

The three were found guilty on the third day of jury deliberations after a four-week trial in U.S. District Court in Chicago. The federal jury convicted Richard Lopez, the local's former secretary-treasurer, as well as Thaddeus Bania, its former comptroller, and David Rodriguez, an organizer.

They are to be sentenced Aug. 27. The local is one of the largest in America and represents more than 12,000 workers.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Peraica Staffer Colin Brady Charged With DUI???

According to published newspaper reports, Colin Brady, 33, of Westchester, was charged with DUI at 1:22am on April 27, 2009 at Harlem Avenue and Olmstead Road. According to the reports, police said a white Lincoln went through the red light at Harlem Avenue and 26th Street with the driver continuing to swerve. Officers stopped the vehicle and observed Brady unable to keep his head up and explain why he went through the red light, according to the published report. Brady apparently then failed the field sobriety tests and blew a .161 in the portable breath test. Once at the station, Brady reportedly refused to take a Breathalyzer. He was charged with DUI and improper lane usage. Brady is believed to be the same person who was recently a candidate for Township office on a slate headed by Theresa L. Kelly and supported by Regional Superintendent Charles Flowers. Brady is also believed to work for embattled Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica who has had other staffers embarrass him with personal problems.

Daily Southtown Exposes Regional Superintendent Charles Flowers As Financial Failure!!!

The Daily Southtown newspaper wrote a detailed article exposing the corruption and failure of Charles Flowers as Superintendent. Here's the article and reporter contact information below:

When Charles Flowers took over the reins of the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education two years ago, critics were skeptical of his baggage.

Flowers, a former special education teacher and administrator, has a history of questionable financial dealings from his days as board president at west suburban Maywood-Melrose Park District 89. But he came into office in 2007 vowing to root out corruption and bring reform to Cook County public schools.

Once he became regional superintendent, Flowers hired relatives and friends and then began giving employees salary advance loans. Then he went to Cook County government for an emergency loan, which the regional office has yet to repay.

In April, the regional office couldn't make payroll and earlier this year the department didn't pay its group health insurance premiums on time, leading the company to temporarily cancel workers' health benefits.

So where's the money?

After several unsuccessful attempts to reach Flowers in the past weeks, he said in a brief conversation this week that he would not comment.

"I am not in front of those documents," Flowers said.

Numerous calls to top administrators in the office also were not returned.

The office was more than $413,000 in debt when Flowers was elected. According to the last available financial audit from June 30, 2007, "If the regional office continues to operate at the current level ... its ability to continue ... may be questioned in future years."

Instead of slashing expenses, the office initially added staff and approved raises for administrators, all of whom at the time held doctorates. Salaries then ranged between $75,244 and $100,325, which in some cases was more than double the pay for the same positions under former Regional Supt. Bob Ingraffia.

Many of the problems at the regional office echo Flowers' troubles as a Maywood-Melrose school board member. In 2002 and 2003 Flowers came under fire for stacking the staff with friends who were paid more than their predecessors and for authorizing frivolous spending on laptops and cell phones for board members in a district with a $3 million deficit. All but six of the 200 laptops were later found in unopened boxes in a storage room by an auditing firm.

Flowers himself had his assets frozen for failing to pay $51,188 in income taxes in the past few years, which Flowers had previously said he was contesting.

Pay advance loans

After Flowers became superintendent in July 2007, he put his two sisters and a nephew on the payroll.

Less than a year on the job, he approved a salary advance of $6,000 to his sister Barbara Flowers, who is also his executive assistant, and $9,000 to friend Arbdella Hayes-Patterson, who oversees the truancy program, according to documents obtained by the SouthtownStar.

Approving what is in essence a loan for employees is unusual, said Marc Kiehna, the president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.

"I think common sense and law tell us we should have contracts and pay our employees accordingly," he said. "It's not a procedure that I would do. Typically people earn the money that we give them."

As for the legality of it, Kiehna said "I would question it."

Neither Barbara Flowers nor Hayes-Patterson returned calls this week for comment about the loans.

Missed paychecks, cut-off insurance

Last month, the regional office couldn't make payroll, forcing employees to go almost two weeks without pay. Staff received paychecks Monday, which was just within the window allowed by an Illinois Department of Labor law that outlines just how late employees can get paid.

In the April 15 memo Flowers sent to his staff informing them payroll would be delayed, he wrote, "I regret having to take this action, but the funds simply are not there at this time."

With the next round of paychecks due today, a number of workers have said they are worried those checks will also be late - if they come at all. This comes in addition to layoffs within the past couple of weeks and switching some employees from fulltime to parttime, which also occurred in the past few weeks. It's unknown how many workers from the staff of about two dozen were laid off or had their hours cut.

Health insurance for those same employees was temporarily interrupted due to nonpayment earlier this year, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois confirmed. Coverage has since been restored.

Since the SouthtownStar started asking questions, employees have described the work environment as "hostile and tense." They've said administrators are "interrogating" employees, looking through phone records and e-mails to see who leaked information to the media.

Unpaid loans

In 2008 and 2009, Flowers, who currently makes $103,234, submitted budgets identical to his predecessor from one year prior - with the exception of a more than $10,000 increase for rent after the office moved, according to documents acquired through a SouthtownStar Freedom of Information Act request .

The approximately $670,000 operations budget does not include about $2.5 million in state and federal grants Flowers expected for 2009, as well as revenue from certification and fingerprinting, among other programs.

But of that expected revenue, the office will not receive $1.7 million from a state truancy grant. For years, the office won the competitive grant, but after Flowers took over and the amount requested went from about $100,000 in 2007 to $1.7 million, the state didn't approve the grant.

What was approved in June 2008 was a $190,000 taxpayer-backed loan from the Cook County Board.

That money was used for operations and has been spent, Flowers said. It is unclear if the office will make the June 30 repayment deadline.

Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) cast the sole "no" vote when the request for the money came in last year.

"All Flowers did was pad it (the staff) with his friends and family and then come to us, to (board president Todd) Stroger, for a loan. How ironic," Gorman said.

After the dissenting vote, Gorman said Flowers' office contacted her to discuss the loan. She said her office called back daily, then weekly, to set up a time, and no one got back to her, which made her even more comfortable with her vote.

"If they can't sit down and meet, that just shows their inaccessibility and ineptness." Gorman said. "If they're this unresponsive to elected officials, I can only imagine what it's like with the community and teachers they have to serve."

Delays for certification

The office is responsible for services to 143 school districts and 400,000 students in suburban Cook County. One of its larger roles is to oversee teacher certifications and licensing.

However, at the top of Southland administrators' list of complaints are long delays in teacher certification and a difficulty getting anyone at the office to answer the phone.

The SouthtownStar attempted to retrieve a list of uncertified personnel in the county through a Freedom of Information Act request, but the regional office said it did not maintain such a list. In addition, the office did not provide a list of personnel for whom the office has received applications but have yet to be certified, saying, "The Illinois State Board of Education certifies educational personnel."

Also in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the ISBE said it also could not provide those lists.

In contrast, the teacher certification specialist at the Will County Regional Office of Education said she could provide a list of certification applications waiting to be processed.

It's gotten so bad, districts are circumventing the office that should act as an arm of the state board of education.

"We go directly to ISBE," Forest Ridge School District 142 Supt. Margaret Longo said of teacher certifications.

In Community High School District 218, Supt. John Byrne said the district has lost potential teachers because the office didn't verify certification in time. Reports and surveys the district passes on to the office on time often arrive late to the ISBE, he added.

"Many of those have to do with financial deadlines," Byrne said.

In his 20 years dealing with the regional office, Byrne said he has never had so many problems.

"I'm trying not to assess blame, but something is missing here. It always worked before."

Duaa Eldeib can be reached at or (708) 633-5960.