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A slew of recent audits at San Diego Unified high schools has revealed troubling truths about how associated student body funds are managed around the district.

In response, district leaders have promised to implement a rigorous training program so school administrators learn how to follow accounting rules and keep track of ASB programs, which often run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The only problem: That’s exactly what San Diego Unified promised to do almost exactly three years ago.

In 2009 and 2010, the San Diego County Grand Jury investigated ASB funds across the district and found widespread problems, including ASB money being used for the benefit of staff, rather than students.

One of several recommendations the Grand Jury made in its ensuing report was that principals and other administrators should be “informed and trained” in district and state procedures for managing budgets.

The district’s response: The recommendation would be implemented by Dec. 31, 2010.

It wasn’t.

“Maybe they meant 2020?” said city schools trustee Scott Barnett, who sits on the San Diego Unified’s Audit Committee. “I’m joking, of course. Once again, the district dropped the ball. We didn’t follow up. We gave lip service and said we needed to do training, but nothing’s happened.”

Barnett’s not quite correct when he says nothing’s happened.

In the wake of the Grand Jury report, the district created a 33-page Powerpoint presentation, a checklist of common audit findings and a training video titled “ASB Ten Things You Should Know.”

District officials said Thursday they didn’t know whether principals were required to attend training programs where the materials were shared.

Juan Romo, president of the administrators’ union, said he couldn’t recall being asked to attend a training session on ASB funds.

“They sent out some ‘Things you need to know’ emails, but that’s all,” he said. “I imagine that now they’re going to reconsider making it mandatory.”

That’s what the district is now promising it will do — for real this time.

Barnett said he has no doubt new Superintendent Cindy Marten will require principals and other administrators to be properly trained after recent scandals including an audit at La Jolla High School that revealed the ASB program had no receipts for more than $200,000.

Marten could not be reached for comment.

But Barnett stressed that just because the district is providing training doesn’t mean administrators will be absolved from responsibility if they don’t oversee ASB programs properly.

“Lack of training can’t be used as a crutch,” he said.

The district has so far provided few details on what future training for principals would include. It already has the Powerpoint and the video, which it can dust off, but Romo said the important thing is requiring principals to attend mandatory training, and ensuring they have the time to acquire the skills needed to supervise everything going on at their school, including ASB programs.

“They need to make principals sit in a room for however long they need to be able to understand the ASB programs,” he said.

School board Vice President Kevin Beiser said there has been increased pressure on principals since the Grand Jury report came out in 2010.

Beiser, who like Barnett has sat on the board since December 2010, said principals have been put on notice that they must properly manage their ASB programs with internal district audits.

“While there continue to be opportunities to improve, schools are doing better than they used to be because of the added vigilance of the audits, which brings a heightened awareness of whether they’re being administered correctly,” Beiser said.

Since 2010, the district’s Office of Internal Audit has audited ASB programs at schools across the district.

To find out if your local school’s program was audited, take a look at the list of reports here.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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