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A county grand jury report released today criticizes San Diego Unified schools for misusing more than $100,000 meant for student government, instead spending it on school supplies, equipment and things that benefit faculty, such as a Christmas party for employees. The problems were originally uncovered in internal school district audits.

Such money is meant for extra activities, not the basics that schools are supposed to supply. The report states that the problem is widespread: Roughly 75 percent of schools audited by school district investigators had misused the funds, including the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Hoover High, Longfellow Elementary, McKinley Elementary, Mission Bay High and Washington Elementary.

The grand jury, a volunteer citizen group that investigates local governments, recommended San Diego Unified require more training for principals, vice principals, financial clerks and student government advisors to ensure they have checks and balances to track and control how money is spent. It also advised the school district to increase its auditing staff.

The report also noted a number of other problems in the school system: Schools are still charging fees for supplies, equipment and uniforms, violating state law, which prohibits schools for charging students for activities.

It argues for more oversight and auditing of charter schools, which are independently run but overseen by the school district. Oversight is currently limited to a single annual visit, it says. And the report says school district internal investigators aren’t allowed to audit charter schools like other public schools.

“I think what we are seeing in San Diego Unified is probably happening in every school district in the county,” said foreperson Victoria Stubblefield.

Despite the problems, another recent grand jury report gave San Diego Unified kudos for having the best system to detect and eliminate internal fraud among local government agencies. Those internal audits, in fact, provided many of the grand jury findings. School district spokeswoman Linda Zintz said San Diego Unified is still reviewing the report and will release a formal statement this afternoon.

— EMILY ALPERT

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