Funding concerns affect after-school programs

Concerns about how funding for after-school programs has been handled led to a week-and-a-half delay of the activities being approved for a handful of high schools in San Francisco.

Accounting irregularities with ExCEL, which is a state-funded after-school program in place at 90 public schools in The City, are being investigated by the San Francisco Unified School District and the District Attorney’s Office, according to school board officials.

Concerns about the funds arose in a closed session of the Aug. 10 school board meeting and resulted in the SFUSD contacting the District Attorney’s Office. The concerns delayed approval of funding for several schools’ programs.

Most of the 13 after-school programs that lacked funding started up even without the financial commitment from the district.

The issue of the after-school programs was cleared up Tuesday night when the Board of Education approved the funding for all the remaining schools.

School board Commissioner Rachel Norton said the inquiry into the bond funds “did cause us to have to put off approving some of those funds, but we did approve them [Tuesday].”

“We’re pretty sure going forward that the practices being investigated have been discontinued,” she said.

The after-school programs are mostly run by community groups, but in some cases they’re run by the schools and paid for through a fiscal intermediary — a management practice that’s frowned upon by The City, but not uncommon at the school district, according to city and school officials.

The practice raising flags is that of hiring financial intermediaries that essentially act as the accounting firm and human resources department for the programs, said Maria Su, executive director of the Department of Youth, Children and Their Families, which is partnering with the school district to provide some of the after-school programs this year.

Depending on their setup, these financial sponsorship relationships are sometimes frowned upon by The City because they can have less oversight than straight contracts, she said.

This is not always the case, and school board Commissioner Jill Wynns said in some cases they are even required by the grants the district receives.

However, Norton said the programs with financial sponsors will be under much closer scrutiny going forward.

“Whether or not that practice in and of itself is always bad is an open question, but certainly the active investigation has caused the district to look more closely at those kinds of relationships,” she said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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