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From right to left, former Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan (now U.S. Secretary of Education), SALF founder/president Carol J. Spizzirri, and you-know-who in 2005. According to the San Diego Reader, Spizzirri's a twice-convicted adult shoplifter who claimed non-existent medical and education credentials, and whose daughter took out a protective order against her. In a September 2006 press release, Duncan called her "one of my heroes." Two months later Spizzirri and her organization were the subjects of a scathing expose by ABC7 Chicago I-Team reporter Chuck Goudie.

The $174,000 skeleton in Arne Duncan's closet
by Peter M. Heimlich
SUMMARY: When he headed the Chicago Public Schools, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan personally arranged a $174,000 contract for the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) to provide first aid training classes for 18,000 students from 2004-06. $49,000 came from the Chicago Public Schools and $125,000 came from Ronald McDonald House Charities. But the schools have no records that any training ever happened -- just invoices and payments signed-off for by Duncan.

Since then, SALF has been the subject of dozens of broadcast and print media exposes and the now-defunct organization is reportedly under investigation by the IL Attorney General for the "possible $9 million misappropriation" of federal and state funds.

Duncan has repeatedly ignored reasonable questions about his relationship to SALF and the $174,000 contract.

On January 5, 2011, I submitted a thoroughly-documented request to CPS Inspector General James Sullivan to investigate what happened to the $49,000 and other money CPS paid SALF.

"The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter. That's what accountability is all about - facing the truth and taking responsibility"
- Arne Duncan quoted in the Los Angeles Times

According to the Chicago Tribune, a high-profile, politically-connected nonprofit called the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) was awarded at least $8.6 million in federal and state grants to provide first aid training classes to about 2 million schoolchildren, "many of them from the Chicago Public Schools."

However, in response to a federal court subpoena (in a civil case in which I was a defendant) and FOIA requests I've filed, the Chicago Schools can't produce any training records.

When he worked as Chicago Public Schools CEO, Arne Duncan -- now US Secretary of Education -- was close to SALF for at least four years. He hyped the organization in the media, appeared as an animated cartoon pitchman on SALF's website, and in a September 2, 2006 press release called SALF's founder/president Carol J. Spizzirri "one of my heroes."

Two months later, ABC7 Chicago aired this scorching expose by I-Team reporter Chuck Goudie featuring "cartoon Arne" and a furious Spizzirri walking off-camera in mid-interview.

Since then, the now-defunct SALF has been the subject of
dozens more broadcast & print exposes -- including a March 14, 2012 interview I gave to a Rockford, IL paper that explains how I got involved -- and is reportedly under investigation by the Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Trust Bureau.

From the
text version of Goudie's report, here's the problem for Duncan:
(Chicago Public Schools) officials say Save-A-Life charged them $50,000 the past two years.

Schools CEO Arnie (sic) Duncan says it seems unlikely that Carol Spizzirri's organization could have taught the number of students they claim....
Duncan apparently failed to disclose to Goudie that the previous year, he personally arranged the $50,000. (To be precise it was $49,000.)

The $49,000 was CPS's share of a $174,000 contract Duncan arranged with Spizzirri for which her organization was supposed to provide first aid training classes to 18,000 students. Another $125,000 came from Ronald McDonald House Charities.

n response to my April 29, 2011 FOIA request,
CPS responded that it has no records for the program. The response also stated that Duncan's office was entirely responsible for administering the program.

After Goudie's devastating report blew the lid off an organization with which Duncan had been involved for years, wouldn't he have checked CPS records and learned that there were no training records for the contract he'd arranged with Spizzirri the previous year? Realizing he'd facilitated a scam, shouldn't Duncan have then asked the CPS Inspector General to investigate?

There's no indication he took any action, so I did what
Duncan could have done.

After CPS Inspector General James M. Sullivan wrote me that his office had no statute of limitations for investigating vendor fraud, I sent him a January 5, 2011 letter asking him to investigate what happened to the $49,000 and other money CPS paid SALF. Since then, I've sent Sullivan a number of updates.

On June 1, 2011, Ann Arbor, MI education activist
Michael Paul Goldenberg sent an open letter to Duncan asking about his relationship with SALF. In a cursory reply, Department of Education Communications Director Cynthia Dorfman ignored Goldenberg's questions, including whether Duncan had a financial relationship with SALF. She then ignored my follow-up questions. Details via my blog.

Also see my companion article, Why doesn't Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) care about an apparent $125,000 rip-off of their donors' money?

Author's note: This web page is dedicated to the late education critic Gerald Bracey, with whom I had the privilege of collaborating on his final column about these issues, The Skeleton in Arne Duncan's Closet.

"Dear Arne" letter and grant application from SALF founder/president Carol J. Spizzirri for the second year of the McDonald's/CPS program

"Dear Carol" letter from Arne Duncan approving the grant

Page 1-3: $49,000 CPS paid SALF for the two-year program, signed off by Duncan
Page 4: CPS can't produce any training records and puts the responsibility on Duncan


My January 5, 2011 investigation request to CPS Inspector General James Sullivan


Some highlights of Duncan's relationship with SALF




From the March 17, 2005, Chicago Defender:

CPS chief Arne Duncan told the Defender he has "extraordinary respect" for the training that (Carol) Spizzirri's organization provides for the school district.

"She's basically dedicated her life to train children so that the tragedy that happened to her family won't happen to others," he told the Defender. "I'm a huge fan and supporter of the program."


Copyright @ 2011 Peter M. Heimlich, all rights reserved