- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

“A lack of effective financial oversight, poor internal controls, financial mismanagement, and ineffective fiscal accountability fostered wasteful use of District and federal funds, and deprived eligible applicants access to the [subsidized child care programs],” the D.C. Auditor found recently. The rampant mismanagement, which also was found in the Head Start program, meant providers were overpaid, budgets were overspent and lengthy waiting lists displaced upwards of 1,230 low-income children. The auditor’s report is, essentially, all the evidence needed to prove what many parents have said for years: D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) is an overpriced babysitting service.

D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, who lost her re-election bid to former Mayor Marion Barry, requested the audit, which covered fiscal 2001 and 2002. It is most disturbing that children of poor and working-class families were shortchanged. But what’s appalling is that the audit characterized as “willful disregard” for not only the intents and purposes of the subsidies but, more importantly, applicable D.C. and federal laws and regulations.

The most egregious offender appears to be DCPS, which received $24 million to provide educational, arts and sports programs in fiscal ‘01 and ‘02. The funds were earmarked for needy youths. However, the director of the school system’s programs “intentionally opened” enrollment in the after-care program to all children — a decision that the auditor said resulted in the “reckless disregard of federal grant requirements” and $4.7 million in overspending. Of that $4.7 million, school officials spent $4.5 million on personnel costs alone. Further, the DCPS director also “failed to create an electronic list” of students participating in programs, “despite his purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment with program funds,” the auditor found.

DCPS hid its costly mismanagement because the agency that oversees such programs — the D.C. Department of Human Services, or DHS — looked the other way. DHS failed to implement any controls or monitoring regarding the city’s heavily subsidized child-care programs.

The folks in the mayor’s office should have at least blinked while the D.C. Council winked at those “management” decisions. (We’d add the school board, but it rarely pays attention to matters of consequence.)

Entitlements like Head Start and before-and-after-school programs are provided for the neediest of youths to help strengthen academic skills and to help build character. They target poor and working-class parents because those programs help them stay in the work force or attend schools themselves. The programs are not free babysitting services. City officials will be tempted to call for “more personnel training” on this one. But this latest example of “willful” mismanagement calls for far tougher consequences.

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