Where's the $1 million?

$1M for Chicago church went to 'wrong place'
March 4, 2008 3:40:49 PM PST
New questions are being raised about who received $1 million pledged by Governor Rod Blagojevich to rebuild Pilgrim Baptist Church. The Chicago landmark was destroyed by fire more than two years ago.

Shortly after the fire the governor had earmarked state funds to restore the structure. But Pilgrim Baptist Church never received the money. Instead, the million dollars may have gone to a private school once housed next to the church.

A spokesperson for the governor said Tuesday it does not appear the school did anything wrong in accepting the money; however, ABC7 has learned that in addition to having no plans to rebuild next to Pilgrim Baptist Church, the school may have had financial problems.

The Loop Lab School once rented space from the Pilgrim Baptist Church. When it burned, so did the school.

"It was just a terrible feeling, the children were crying," said Gregory Luckett, former Loop Lab School teacher.

Luckett was there that day and helped his students escape the flames. But he claims financial problems popped up at the school long before the flames and long before Governor Rod Blagojevich offered state money to rebuild.

"Before the fire we were not getting paid correctly, we were not getting paid on a regular basis, we were not getting paid our rate," said Luckett.

Luckett claims he and other teachers are owed more than $9,000 in wages they earned before the fire. Imagine his amazement this week when he learned the million dollars he thought the governor gave to rebuild the church actually went to a school that right now has no students.

"Maybe they thought the school was actually incorporated with the church. Maybe he didn't know. I don't know who actually did the mix-up," said Luckett. He added that was an easy thing have figured out.

"This is about Governor Blagojevich's endless desire to self promote. It's always about the quick fix, getting his face in front of the camera trying to be the white knight," said State Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Woodstock.

On their website school administrators praise the governor.

"We'd first like to thank Governor Blagojevich for his support for our initiate to care for children for 24 years," says Chandra Gill, Loop Lab school director, in a video on the website.

But Blagojevich's office calls it a "bureaucratic mistake" that a school that isn't even rebuilding next door to Pilgrim Baptist Church got the money.

Instead, the $1 million was used to buy space in a building across from the Sears Tower. The grand opening has been delayed several times. They now hope to welcome students this fall. But first they'll need to hire at least one new teacher.

"I couldn't believe the school would get this amount of money and not contact me to pay me the amount of money that I worked for," said Luckett.

ABC7 has repeatedly tried to reach school administrators. They have not responded.

State Representative Franks plans to hold hearings in Springfield in about two weeks, looking at the way the governor awards money, and specifically why a school with apparently no ties to a historic church wound up receiving a million-dollar grant with few strings attached.