- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

The head of the D.C. Council’s education committee yesterday said any school employees who participated in trips or retreats paid for with federal funds meant for underprivileged children should be fired.

“The school system already fired the program director, and if there are other officials still with the system who benefited from this egregious use of public dollars, they should also be fired. End of story,” said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that D.C. auditors are looking into the public school system’s use of thousands of dollars that were intended to help poor D.C. schoolchildren to pay for adminstrators’ retreats and unapproved travel.

Mrs. Patterson brought the issue to light last week during an oversight hearing of the council’s Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation.

“I put the auditor’s information on the public record last week in order to make sure there is follow-up,” she said yesterday.

Sharon Gang, spokeswoman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said yesterday, “The mayor hopes that the superintendent, if the findings are found to be true, would act quickly to address them. The mayor hopes that whoever used the funds will be held accountable.”

D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz yesterday said she was “really not prepared to speak about” whether other school workers should be disciplined.

Mrs. Cafritz said she was aware of the misuse of funds and had lobbied for the ouster of the program manager responsible when Paul L. Vance was the school system’s superintendent.

“That person should have been dismissed some time ago,” she said, adding that the school board does not have the power to hire or fire employees. “It really took [current Superintendent Clifford B.] Janey to have the guts to do this.”

Deborah K. Nichols of the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor is looking into the public-school system’s use of federal funds earmarked for after-school child care programs.

The school system 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 last year when they looked into expenditures, including federal Temporary Assistance 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.” The audit findings are expected to be released within the next few months.

The auditor’s office has issued eight audits on the school system since 2001.

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 upon, she said.

Mr. 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.

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