Education Funding

San Diego Board Questions Fund

By Jessica L. Tonn — March 28, 2006 1 min read
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The San Diego board of education has voted to send the findings of a seven-month probe into former Superintendent Alan D. Bersin’s private fund for education to three public agencies for further review.

The now-defunct Superintendent’s Fund for School Innovation was managed by the San Diego Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The fund was used over seven years for a variety of educational initiatives in the district, including a universal-preschool project, scholarships, and library books.

In addition, nearly $45,000 from the fund was approved for reimbursement of the superintendent’s expenses for meetings, entertainment, and travel between June 1999 and November 2004. Mitz S. Lee, the board’s vice president, said the panel voted 4-1 in a closed session on March 14 to pass the probe’s findings to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state attorney general’s office, and the Internal Revenue Service. Luis Acle, the board president, cast the dissenting vote.

The fund reported receiving approximately $340,000 in donations, but said last year that it had spent about $575,000. What board members want to know, Ms. Lee said, is the source of the money that isn’t accounted for by the list of donations, which amounts to $235,000.

“We can’t find out where the money came from, and we want to know if there could be a possible conflict of interest,” she said in an interview last week.

The district’s investigation began last August, when Ms. Lee requested that the district review the fund after Mr. Bersin was appointed to serve as the California secretary of education. Ms. Lee then asked for an internal audit of the fund in September.

In December, after reviewing the audit report, the board unanimously voted to hire a legal specialist to independently review the fund. According to Ms. Lee, Mr. Bersin refused to cooperate with the investigator.

Mr. Bersin said in a statement last week that all of the donations were approved by a third-party independent overseer, and that the donors did not receive anything except “the satisfaction of helping teaching and learning in San Diego city classrooms.”

He dismissed the investigation as “a couple of trustees pursuing a shameful vendetta for perceived personal slights while I was superintendent.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 29, 2006 edition of Education Week

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