Chicago public schools food chief under fire for accepting gifts from vendors

The Chicago Public Schools food director and two of her staff accepted $87,000 in gifts from the two largest food vendors to the system, says a report by the CPS inspector general.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizardhave both called for Louise Esaian to step down.

I don't see why everyone is having a fit over this. It's just another form of "pay to play."

Chicago Tribune:

"CPS employees have an obligation to the students, families and taxpayers of the district to hold themselves to the highest ethical standards," the statement read. "We simply cannot, and will not, allow any employee to break" that trust.

Emanuel echoed that thought in a separate statement, expressing "deep personal disappointment" with Esaian's alleged actions.

Esaian, who has not publicly responded to the allegations, could not be reached Saturday for comment.

The report submitted to CPS officials late last week by district Inspector General James Sullivan accuses Esaian and two members of her staff of accepting at least $86,000 in gifts from high-ranking executives at Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality and Preferred Meal Systems, companies that have combined food contracts with CPS in excess of $75 million.

According to the report, Esaian told the inspector general that she had friendly relationships with the food executives and that the gifts didn't influence her decisions at CPS. But some observers now raise questions about where her allegiances stood.

Around the time Esaian took over as the head of the food services at CPS in 2007, Chartwells launched a pilot program to provide free breakfasts to students at a city elementary school.

Four years later, the breakfast program had grown to serve 199 public elementary schools, and Esaian urged the school board to take it districtwide, crediting the program with improving the "intellectual, emotional, social and physical development" of schoolchildren from low-income families.

The board unanimously approved the expansion despite strong opposition from many parents, increasing Chartwells' multimillion-dollar contract with CPS by about $10 million.

Chartwell got quite a bargain; a few thousand dollar in trinkets and toys in exchange for $10 million more in business.

Isn't it great when the system works?