- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

Thousands of dollars in federal funds intended to assist poor D.C. schoolchildren appear to have been spent instead by school administrators on retreats and unapproved travel.

D.C. auditors are looking into the public school system’s use of these federal funds.

“You had at least principals and some other managers participating,” Deborah K. Nichols of the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor says. “No cost was spared.”

Mrs. Nichols disclosed the inquiry at an oversight hearing by the D.C. Council’s Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation.

D.C. public schools received more than $10 million in 2004 for after-school programs, according to city documents. Under the proposed fiscal 2006 budget, the programs would receive more than $13 million, which includes federal money and private donations.

Auditors discovered the travel disbursements when they looked into expenditures of money earmarked last year for after-school child care programs — including federal Temporary Aid for Needy Families grants. The grants are meant to provide child care from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. to thousands of city students from low-income families.

Officials at the auditor’s office said the travel and retreat expenses involved “thousands of dollars.” They said the D.C. public school system fired at least one employee as a result of the audit findings, but would not identify the employee.

The audit findings are expected to be released within the next few months.

Auditors also are looking into whether money was spent for computers for students who did not participate in the after-school activities.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said the school system is cooperating fully with the auditor’s office, the D.C. Office of the Inspector General and school-system auditors.

“We continue to cooperate with Mrs. Nichols’ office,” he said.

The auditor’s office has issued eight audits on the school system since 2001, including one on the number of annual salaries exceeding $90,000. The findings of that audit are expected to be released next month, officials said. Auditors used subpoenas to obtain the payroll figures.

Mrs. Nichols said findings of mismanagement have surfaced repeatedly in previous inquiries. The office has made 107 recommendations to improve school system operations in the past four years but fewer than half have been acted on, she said.

“Overall, I would say the easier recommendations have been implemented,” Mrs. Nichols said. “The more difficult … have not been implemented at all.”

The after-school program audit follows an auditor’s office report last year on the D.C. Department of Human Services’ Office of Early Childhood Development, which also provides money for school-system after-school programs. The review found overspending in the school programs by about $4.7 million during 2002.

Angela M. Jones, executive director of DC Action for Children, an advocacy group, said the after-school programs are important in keeping children off the streets and out of trouble.

“There is a need out there, and I certainly think this money spread throughout the community could be well utilized,” she said.

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