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Chicago Tribune

The principal at a prominent Near Northwest Side high school is under fire for allegedly racking up nearly $17,000 in charges on overseas travel to France, Great Britain, South Korea and other exotic locations on his Chicago Public Schools-issued credit card.

CPS officials say Ogden International School Principal Kenneth Staral spent lavishly in 2009 and 2010 on trips to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Central America to support an international studies program he created at the school in the West Town neighborhood.

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus on Wednesday said the school district has tightened rules regarding credit card use in the wake of several high-profile scandals. Chicago Board of Education members are no longer authorized to make credit card purchases. Sainvilus also said CPS now conducts daily audits of credit card transactions, closely scrutinizing purchases of more than $250 and those made for school purposes.

“In these tight financial times, you have to be mindful of the fiscal situations we’re living in,” Sainvilus said. “You have to spend wisely. Not lavishly.”
Staral’s purchases were made before CPS updated its credit card policy, Sainvilus said, but the district has forwarded the case to the CPS inspector general. Staral, who remains principal at Ogden, could not be reached for comment.

“The IGs office is reviewing the credit card expenditures to determine what, if any, rule violations occurred and who should be held responsible,” Sainvilus said.
Staral’s spending, according to Sainvilus, included hundreds of dollars at restaurants in London, the Serbian capital of Belgrade and Lyon, France; and at luxury hotels in Prague and Serbia. He also spent on trips in the U.S., including stops in New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

The spending is reminiscent of sprees by former CPS Board Presidents Michael Scott and Rufus Williams during that same time period. District records showed Scott and Williams spent freely with their CPS credits cards on travel, artwork, dining and personal gifts to a variety of charities.

The school district’s inspector general later determined that a number of those purchases violated CPS’ ethics policy, which prohibits employees from using their positions to derive financial gain.

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