Monday, September 30, 2013

School funds go astray in La Jolla, Mira Mesa and Chula Vista--but the events in Chula Vista didn't make it into the news

In Sweetwater Union High School District, Mary Anne Weegar insisted that funds be spent for their intended purpose. The result? She lost her job. The superintendent was the notorious Ed Brand.

At another district in Chula Vista, two separate embezzlements occurred, in 1997 and 2005 at Castle Park Elementary, but the district was able to keep it hushed up. For some reason, it seems that school embezzlements in all other parts of the county manage to make it into the news.

$250,000 in San Diego student money misspent by staff, says audit
Staff breakfasts, popcorn machine among items
Mitch Blacher
ABC News

SAN DIEGO - A quarter million dollars meant for Mira Mesa High School students was "misspent" by school administrators on things such as staff breakfasts, personal expenses for school coaching staff, a popcorn machine, sound system, office furniture and more, according to an audit by the San Diego Unified School District.

The money originated from a fund for the "Associated Student Body" and was raised in part by students and also tax dollars mandated by the state.

The district audit shows 22 examples of money meant for students that was instead spent by staff.

((See Team 10 question the district today on 10News At 5:00.))

"Some people may view this as hundreds of thousands of dollars in misspent money," said SDUSD spokesman Jack Brandais.

The audit shows $20,785 raised by graduation tickets was misappropriated, and it shows Mira Mesa HS Principal Scott Guisti spent $41,666 from the student fund for office furniture.

Brandais said the district is not placing blame on any person for the misspending because the district did not properly train staff on how to use money from certain accounts, and, in fact, approved the spending.

The audit also shows the basketball and cross country coach using $3,058.37 for "personal gain."

"It was going to coaches' clinics, and student funds can't be used for that," Brandais said.

The audit revealed money spent on gift cards for staff.

It also shows the principal spent more than $37,000 on a sound system, ice machine, printer, portable stage and popcorn machine.

"We made errors," Guisti wrote in response to the audit. "I disagree with several of the auditor's findings."

Internal emails between Guisti and school district staff show the district itself authorized the expenditures.

"According to this report, we have a lot of work to do to do better," Brandais said.

Brandais said since the audit, SDUSD principals have been through new training detailing how to handle money meant for student causes.

This is not the first time San Diego student funds have been spent misspent. In July 2013, another district audit revealed $25,000 wrongly taken from a student fund at La Jolla High School.

UPDATED: La Jolla High clerk responsible for more than $25,000 in missing ASB funds
A former La Jolla High School clerk is under investigation for accounting irregularities. La Jolla school board representative Scott Barnett said he would likely ask the district attorney's office to open an investigation.
District calls 52-page audit of associated student body accounts worst the department has encountered.
To read the 52-page audit, click here.
By Pat Sherman
La Jolla Light
July 18, 2013

An auditor with the San Diego Unified School District says his 52-page audit of La Jolla High School’s associated student body funds is the longest and most negative the district has ever encountered, according to U-T San Diego, which first reported the story July 15.

Chief among the 60 negative findings in the July 2 report is that a school clerk, who resigned in February when the audit began, removed more than $25,000 in funds earmarked for student activities, using accounting ruses to cover up the loss.

Nine checks from The Foundation of La Jolla High School, totaling almost $14,000, were used to cover missing money from the various accounts, according to the audit of $1 million raised and $915,000 spent during the 2011-2012 school year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012).

The report says $26,925 in unaccounted funds in the ASB accounts is only a “minimum amount.”

The financial clerk, whose name was withheld by district officials, might have done the same thing in a previous district post not identified in the report, it shows.

Asked to comment about the loss and other questionable ASB accounting practices detailed in the report, the school district issued the following statement from Superintendent Cindy Marten on Wednesday, July 17.

“The public can be assured that the San Diego Unified School District takes very seriously our responsibility to properly spend funds from taxpayers and donors alike.

“As Superintendent, my expectations are that all district employees understand and follow our district policies, procedures, and the law. It is the district’s responsibility to provide relevant, timely and clear information and training to our employees for this important function.

“In cases where an audit has shown that policies or the law are not followed, all appropriate action will be taken. Due to employee privacy rules, we are not always at liberty to share the consequences with the public. However, the district will follow through with appropriate discipline/legal action as required.

Our students, parents and the community can trust my full attention to these issues.”

Other irregularities detailed in the report include:

• More than $200,000 in spending unaccounted for by receipts or other required documentation.

• The school used ASB funds to pay a retired employee and Advanced Placement test monitors, which also should be paid with district money.

• When paying a construction company for football field repairs, Principal Dana Shelburne transferred $26,000 from an ASB account to his own discretionary account. The work, including construction of a wall, drainage and waterproofing, should have been covered by district funds.

• ASB money was used to purchase fireworks for a homecoming event (the district prohibits pyrotechnics on school grounds), and to pay almost $100,000 to the publisher of the school yearbook (awarded the job without it first going out to bid).

• La Jolla High accepted a grant for $26,386 from UC San Diego, which it deposited into the ASB checking account, instead of the district account.

• Unaccounted funds, included: $1,982 in senior dues for the class of 2012 and ASB Ball income totalling $3,360.

• The ASB received a $1,500 check from the La Jolla Kiwanis Foundation for football, though it was deposited to an account where basketball game proceeds are collected — to cover a deficiency in that account.

Don Hodges of the Kiwanis foundation told La Jolla Light the $1,500 is only a small part of what the foundation gives to the school annually (this year it awarded $15,000 to La Jolla High’s scholarship foundation to award student scholarships at local community colleges.

However, Hodges added, “any funds that are given for a specific purpose we would expect that those funds are used for that purpose. … If the funds go to other purposes, that would be a concern to us.”

Speaking with Light on July 17, Scott Barnett, a school board member whose district includes La Jolla High, said the board would likely ask the district attorney’s office to open an investigation.

“There are many times in an audit where it appears that there are accounting errors or sloppiness or mistakes, but the absolutely egregious level of missing funds is extremely worrisome here and I believe warrants the district attorney to investigate to find out who is responsible, and where those funds are,” Barnett said.

Steve Walker, a representative for District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, said the office’s special operations division routinely investigates cases in which there has been a misuse of public funds. The District Attorney’s office won’t confirm whether a case has been opened until charges are filed, Walker said.

On Friday, July 19, Principal Shelburne issued the following statement to La Jolla High parents:

“The findings of that report focused mainly on monies allegedly misappropriated by means of accounting manipulations. The District’s auditors apprised me of their findings in May.

“We have been audited several times in past years without incident. This audit, however, revealed a fairly sophisticated, inappropriate series of monetary transfers that resulted in the loss of school funds. It is important to note the audit found the contributions of the Foundation of La Jolla High School to be completely lawful and above reproach. And while I am pursuing resolution to disagreements about acceptable use of ASB funds, please be assured we have instituted new safeguards to ensure monetary manipulation can never recur.”

Foundation of La Jolla High President Jeffrey Macelli, also released a statement in response to the audit:

“In light of the recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Foundation of La Jolla High School has been asked to clarify its role and position in the community.

The Foundation is a credentialed 501C(3)and is more than twenty-five years old. Its stated Mission is ‘to enhance the overall educational experience of LJHS students and programs by raising, managing and disbursing funds to support academic, athletic, building and grounds, and other needs of the school for which funding is not sufficient.’ The Foundation is a separate entity, distinct from La Jolla High School, the ASB, and San Diego Unified School District.

The Foundation provides funds to support or supplement activities and initiatives that adhere to rules and guidelines established by the Foundation, and which are acceptable to and approved by La Jolla High School. The Foundation delivers funding after a thorough review and vetting process that requires supporting documentation and LJHS administrative approvals.

We are aware of the SDUSD Audit dated July 2, 2013 that was made public on Tuesday, July 16, however it is outside our area of purview.”

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