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Originally published June 29, 2011 at 9:24 PM | Page modified June 30, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Audit questions another Urban League contract with Seattle Schools

The state auditor is again questioning whether the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle has overcharged Seattle Public Schools — this time for a contract it signed with the school district in December to help African-American students at Cleveland High.

Seattle Times staff reporters

quotes This is nothing less than stealing. An in depth investigation should be done and... Read more
quotes This does only scratch the surface of the number of people benefiting from contracts... Read more
quotes What we have here is a payola system where the Seattle School district is paying money... Read more

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The state auditor is again questioning whether the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle has overcharged Seattle Public Schools — this time for a contract it signed with the school district in December to help African-American students at Cleveland High.

The district approved the $80,000 contract, despite questions it had about the League's work with the district's now-defunct small-business program. District officials signed the more recent contract anyway, saying the full scope of concerns was not clear at the time.

But in a meeting with the district Wednesday on the new audit's findings, auditors said monthly invoices submitted for the program lacked detail, with just a one-line description of the work and a lump-sum charge of $8,000. The program, called Urban Scholars, was modeled after a privately funded program run by the Urban League at Garfield High.

Auditors did not name the Urban League, but district officials confirmed that's the contractor in question.

The district recently canceled the Urban Scholars contract, along with the only other contract it still had with the Urban League, for after-school tutoring services.

It has paid only $36,000 of the $80,000 contract, and may seek to be reimbursed for part of that.

Wayne Porter, chairman of the Urban League's board, said he had not seen the new audit but defended the Urban Scholars program, saying it provided valuable help to Seattle students.

Its Garfield program continues to operate.

The latest audit follows an explosive special audit released in February, when state auditors concluded the district had spent up to $1.8 million on contract work that was never done or didn't benefit the district.

That audit was done at the request of the school board because of concerns board members had about the now-defunct, small-business program.

The special audit zeroed in on that program. The Urban League was one of the major contractors, and auditors questioned about $600,000 of its contracts.

The findings in that audit ultimately cost then-Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson her job and triggered a still ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of financial fraud.

Duggan Harman, the district's executive director of finance, said the district agreed with the auditor's concerns about how the Urban League billed for the Urban Scholars program.

He said he believes the program at Cleveland was a good one but that the district ultimately felt the Urban League had misled it about how many students were being helped.

"We made the decision that we didn't want to do business with them," Harman said.

It became clear, he said, that the invoices for the Cleveland program included expenses for the separate and privately funded program at Garfield.

At Cleveland, the League served about 30 students.

Porter said the League would provide any additional documentation the district asks for about questioned expenses.

Porter said the organization had reviewed one month's worth of invoices at the district's request and agreed to reduce its billing for that month by about $2,500.

One of Seattle's oldest community service and civil-rights organizations, the Urban League has been struggling to stay afloat amid the bad publicity surrounding the earlier special audit.

In recent months, the League has been operating under new management, with a transition board working on a turnaround plan at least partly under the direction of the National Urban League.

The latest audit was the third of the state's three regular yearly audits of the school district. It covered the 2009-10 school year.

Along with questioning the Urban League contract, the auditors raised concerns about how the district safeguards funding in its Associated Student Body programs, and whether it is losing too much money from lost laptops that students receive as part of the new science-math-technology program at Cleveland.

In addition, the auditor reported a number of problems with Associated Student Body funding at Garfield, which has cost one employee her job.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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