Schooled

This Woman Billed Detroit Schools a Small Fortune for Nonexistent Tutoring. Great Work If You Can Get It!

Detroit teachers stage a sick-out for the second day in a row and protest in front of Detroit Public Schools headquarters.

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Detroit Public Schools can’t seem to get anything right. As if the system’s forever-looming bankruptcy, the black mold in its classrooms, and the constant sickouts by frustrated teachers weren’t bad enough, now just two months after a dozen current and former DPS principals were charged with pocketing hundred of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a school-supply vendor, it transpires that the school district paid a former administrator close to $1.3 million for tutoring services that she never provided. Ouch. 

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Carolyn Starkey-Darden, DPS’ director of grant development, retired in 2005 after nearly four decades with the district. According to court documents, she proceeded to spend the next seven years submitting fraudulent tutoring invoices through several companies—one of which, “Grants ‘N Such,” gets my enthusiastic vote for best shell company name of the month—that totaled $1.27 million. 

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Starkey-Darden’s scam was nothing if not elaborately executed, according to a Detroit Free Press report on the latest scandal to beset Motor City schools: 

She did this, court records show, by submitting phony documents to the district that included doctored test scores, forged attendance records and parental signatures and fake individual learning plans—all of which went on forms that were required by DPS before payment could be made.

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Starkey-Darden’s companies, which the FBI has been investigating since 2011, received $6.1 million in federal programming money, at least $1.2 million of which was “ill-gotten,” per the Free Press.

Sure, you might say—$1.2 million isn’t all that much money. And it’s true that DPS’ (borrowed) operating budget was $725.6 million in the 2013-2014 school year; the district blows through $1.2 million before snack break on a single school day. But still. Pocket change or no pocket change, this scandal—coming on the heels of several principals’ guilty pleas in the kickback scheme earlier this month—is yet another embarrassing PR headache for DPS, all the more unwelcome given that the district is desperately trying to get bailed out by the state over the summer.

Becoming a tutor was among the many attractive post-collegiate side careers I failed to pursue while devoting the bulk of my days to writing fiction. The friends I knew who tutored were well paid for work that seemed far less grueling than waitressing, or late-night newspaper copy editing, or all the other side gigs I attempted in my early twenties. Little did I realize! To be paid really, really good money—like seven figures good—for not even tutoring at all? Now there’s a racket that could’ve funded quite a few novels.

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