USF ends partnership with SFUSD in teacher residency program

District launched training effort to improve low retention rates for new hires

A program intended to help alleviate a teacher shortage in San Francisco has lost a key partner in the aftermath of fraud allegations that led to a $2.5 million settlement.

The University of San Francisco last month pulled out of the San Francisco Residency Program, which was launched in 2010 to help educators-in-training settle into classrooms during a teacher shortage.

Participants spent five hours a day embedded in a San Francisco Unified School District classroom for the year, earning a stipend and acclimating to the system while pursuing teaching credentials. The program was heralded as a way to recruit and retain educators with cultural competency to serve students in San Francisco, an ongoing issue in a city with a high cost of living.

But in March, USF internally announced that it would part ways with the program, the Examiner has learned.

The change comes after USF last May agreed to pay the federal government $2.5 million in a settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office over allegations of fraud. Now the university is in dispute with SFUSD over how much of that settlement the district itself might need to pay.

USF called its departure a “difficult decision” and cited disruptions from the pandemic.

“In terms of the future, we are taking time to decide if and how we would redesign the residency program with SFUSD,” said USF spokesperson Kellie Samson in an email to the Examiner.

The allegations of fraud surfaced when a whistleblower alleged that the program’s then-director, Jonathan Osler, falsified timesheets between 2014 to 2016 to obtain funds from AmeriCorps grants.

In a report to Congress issued in September, the federal Office of Inspector General found that through its director USF, which secured the grant, falsified more than 1,500 timesheets and certified 61 awards during that period. The timesheets qualified USF to receive more than $1.7 million in federal grants through the Corporation for National and Community Service, known as AmeriCorps.

Per the CNCS-OIG’s recommendation, AmeriCorps federally debarred Osler on Jan. 27. This means that until February 2024, Osler cannot solicit or be awarded federal contracts nor can he act as a representative for other contractors. Any affiliation with an organization doing business with the government must be “carefully examined.”

Osler is currently the senior director of schools, programs, and learning at the Oakland Public Education Fund, which works with the Oakland Unified School District. He joined the nonprofit in May 2018 as director of development and moved up to his senior role in October, according to the fund’s website and Osler’s LinkedIn.

“I believe deeply in what we were trying to accomplish at SFTR: ensuring that students from underserved schools had access to well-prepared teachers from communities like theirs,” Osler said in an email. “I also believe in the collaborative relationship that we had and hope it can be replicated in other locations in the future.”

SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick said the district reviewed its systems and now allows residents to receive a cost-of-living stipend through being in the program, and not as a result of certain activities logged on a timesheet.

“One of the whistleblower’s complaints related to irregularities in time reporting for the AmeriCorps Grant, which was issued to SFTR partner USF,” Dudnick said in an email. “The irregularities in time reporting pertained to a practice that was allegedly directed by one staff member who was overseeing the SFTR Program. That person is no longer an employee of the District and has no involvement in the SFTR Program.”

USF has called for SFUSD to pay for a portion of the settlement. It’s unclear how much USF is seeking but the demand comes at a time when the city school district faces a projected $112 million structural deficit by next year.

“The University has made its demand to SFUSD that SFUSD pay its fair share of the settlement,” Samson said in an email last month. “SFUSD previously agreed to pay its fair share. SFUSD has not yet fulfilled its obligation. The matter is in formal dispute adjudication.”

“The District was not a party to the litigation that resulted in the settlement,” Dudnick said. “That litigation was brought against USF, the Americorps grantee. The District has not agreed to contribute to the settlement and, at this point, does not anticipate contributing to it.”

When the residency program was created, The City was struggling to attract and retain educators to the urban school district. A report from 2015 showed that 80 percent of program graduates remained in SFUSD after five years, compared to 50 percent of other SFUSD teachers and 20 percent of Teach for America graduates in the district.

The program’s troubles, and the loss of its benefits for retention rates, come at a time when SFUSD is already grappling with the structural deficit, uncertain enrollment stemming from the pandemic and ongoing work to bring all students back for a regular schedule by the fall semester. Layoffs aren’t anticipated since the district did not issue notices by the required deadline in March.

The program, now called the Teaching Residency Program in SFUSD, has 23 residents from Stanford University and USF this year. Dudnick said the program expects to have six to 12 residents from Stanford next year as well as six to 15 residents each from other residency programs with San Francisco State University/Trellis and New York University.

United Educators of San Francisco President Susan Solomon, who served on the residency program advisory board, found the timesheet fraud “disappointing” and “surprising.” But she hopes the district can hold onto the program.

“Residency programs are a model program for really preparing people to be teachers,” Solomon said. “These are folks who really get, not just excellent practice, but they get to know the school district really well and then they make a commitment to stay. It’s an excellent program, it’s one we fully support.

When asked about rebuilding trust for the program moving forward, current director Jennifer Steiner said the settlement happened long ago and she feels the program has moved forward by now.

“I don’t know that there’s necessarily a trust issue on the table,” Steiner said. “We’re going to maintain the integrity of all that was good about the program. If and when USF decides to come back to the table, they’re welcome.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

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