Auditors find discrepancies in San Francisco City College billing

‘Everything that was found in the audit we’ve taken steps to address’

A recent audit of City College of San Francisco’s free tuition program found $1.5 million in billing discrepancies and criticized the programfor not holding regular oversight committee meetings.

City College officials said the problems arose because “Free City” was a new program and that some officials had been unclear on all the required administrative procedures. The college said all funds will be paid back to the Free City program run by the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (DCYF) as required under the audit released in last month.

The Free City program covers tuition for San Francisco residents who do not already receive financial aid.

San Francisco budgets $15 million to $16.4 million annually for the City College free tuition program, heralded as a nationwide model that moved from a pilot phase in 2019.

“Everything that was found in the audit we’ve taken steps to address,” said John al-Amin, CCSF vice chancellor of finance and administration at a Board of Trustees meeting earlier this week. “If the MOU requires us to coordinate with DCYF on the appropriate administrative costs, we do that now. I don’t anticipate there being any future issues.”

In four instances, auditors determined that CCSF billed program funds out of scope of the memorandum of understanding under which the program operates or were not properly documented between 2019 and 2020. This includes $1.3 million for IT support services, $122,043 for computer equipment for the counseling department and $91,177 in administrative salaries and benefits. It also found that oversight committee meetings, held by DCYF, were not occurring every three months as required by the agreement.

Auditors recommended CCSF designate one staff member to coordinate the program, craft a reimbursement calculation plan, submit methodology for the staff and IT costs, update the MOU, define and cap eligible administrative expenses, and give DCYF more control over spending. Both DCYF, which was not immediately available for comment, and CCSF officials said in the report that they agreed with the findings and recommendations.

Free City first began as a two-year pilot program in 2017. The pilot turned into a 10-year agreement in 2019, making City College the first community college in the nation to provide free tuition. The City budgeted $15 million for the first year, with City College spending $12.2 million.

It was praised by Sen. Bernie Sanders and became part of the Democratic Party agenda that has yet to come to fruition. While California offers free tuition to many full-time students, City College is the first to offer free tuition across the board — at least, since tuition was implemented roughly half a decade ago.

“We as City College need to be a good example for strong fiscal management and oversight,” said Trustee Alan Wong. “I’m glad this audit was done and we’re getting results. When we have news like this we should be transparent about it.”

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