The National Debt


Saturday, January 2, 2010

SALF-gate? 49,000 questions for Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Posted by The Dean of Cincinnati

Photo courtesy of here.

“One of the most erudite, prolific and acidic critics of national education policy.” That’s how the Washington Post memorialized Gerald Bracey shortly after his death in late October. One of his regular targets was President Obama’s basketball buddy, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In an eerie parting shot from waaaay off-court, Bracey just slam-dunked Duncan.

At the time of his death. Bracey was about to publish an article about the Save-A-Life Foundation’s (SALF) relationship with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) when Duncan was in charge. “The Skeleton in Arne Duncan’s Closet” was supposed to appear on Halloween in Bracey’s Huffington Post column, but the HuffPost couldn’t get their act together. Picking up the ball, some of Bracey’s colleagues co-published it on their blogs a couple weeks ago. Since then, the story’s been turning up around the ‘net from OpenLeft to The Free Republic. That’s about as wide a political point spread as it gets and Bracey’s tale from the crypt - literally - certainly has something for everyone.

According to Bracey, here’s the loudest rattle coming from Duncan’s dungeon. Between 2004-06, Duncan’s office directly signed off on $49,000 for SALF to provide first-aid training classes in the Chicago Schools. Trouble is, when it comes to records proving that the training ever happened, CPS seems to have slightly more than zilch.

Per Bracey, it’s tough for Duncan to claim he was out of the loop:

During his years as CPS big dog, Arne Duncan was apparently close to (SALF president Carol) Spizzirri. He was a featured speaker at a 2003 SALF conference and a 2006 press statement has him receiving a SALF “Sponsorship Award” from Spizzirri, his second such prize. Duncan is quoted saying, “Carol is one of my heroes. I really appreciate the partnership.” Duncan even appeared as an animated pitchman on SALF’s website, cheerily hyping kids on the program: “Hi, friend, I’m Arne Duncan…Ask your school teacher today if the ‘SALF-Town’ heroes can visit you!”

Bracey was picking up the trail ABC7 I-Team reporter Chuck Goudie began clearing three years ago:

Per the video clip, Goudie reported that SALF claimed to have trained 67,000 Chicago schools students in just one year, but Duncan himself admitted that “doesn’t seem likely.” Goudie reported that CPS paid SALF big bucks for the program, but he didn’t follow the money trail. That’s where Bracey was going:

After Goudie’s reports, Spizzirri filed a defamation suit against three people who criticized SALF (including Dr. Heimlich’s son), claiming the criticisms cost it 11 contracts, including CPS. But the lawsuit resulted in only more scrutiny. For example, in response to a subpoena from the defendants’ lawyer for all their SALF records, CPS produced a grand total of 19 invoices from 2000-2007 totaling $12,855.

Three more invoices from 2004/2005—which CPS failed to provide to the defendants’ attorney—have since turned up via a public records request. The first 19 invoices produced by the subpoena appear to have gone through regular CPS payroll. But the three later invoices, totaling $49,000, were processed and signed off by CEO Arne Duncan’s office. One includes this handwritten notation: “per AD per Ann Whalen 9-14-05.” Whalen was Duncan’s personal assistant. She now works for him in Washington.

As a defendant in SALF’s ridiculous lawsuit (which they dropped), I’d like to know why CPS’s legal department didn’t produce those three invoices. Was it an oversight or did they fail to comply with a federal subpoena?

For now, let’s just take a closer look at the three invoices.

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