Preschool programs run by San Diego Unified neglected to collect more than $3.2 million in government money during the past three years, forcing the school district’s early childhood education program to pick up the tab, according to an internal audit.

“I was disappointed in the magnitude of this issue, that things could get that far out of hand,” said William Wright, vice chairman of the district’s audit and finance committee.

The mistake meant that the early childhood education program had to tap its rainy day funds instead. No programs were cut, but the money could have been spent on other things for preschoolers if the school district hadn’t had to plug the gap.

The school district lost most of the money because it missed deadlines to report expenses to the federal government, which reimburses it for running early childhood programs. San Diego Unified, which runs some preschool programs through a grant from the nonprofit Neighborhood House Association, had to report expenses to Neighborhood House, which then reported them to the government.

Early childhood director Sylvia Gonzalez said the two agencies had conflicting deadlines. Some of the San Diego Unified preschools didn’t close until July, but Neighborhood House had to close its books earlier. By the time that Gonzalez and her staff realized all of the spending hadn’t been reported, it was too late to get reimbursed.

That cost the early childhood program more than $2.7 million three years ago, a problem that’s since been fixed. But the early childhood education department also lost money to other mistakes over time, like putting wrong charges on one of its budgets.

District auditors concluded that the early childhood department needed staffers who are experts in managing contracts like the Neighborhood House grant and recommended creating a new job to do that. The department has since hired someone to manage the program’s financial aspects.

Sid Salazar, an assistant superintendent, said the financial hit did not hurt the school district as a whole, since the early childhood programs are a standalone program with separate funding.

Emily Alpert is the education reporter for What should she write about next? Please contact her directly at

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Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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