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Fallout from S.F. Unified Scandal Touches Berkeley

Board approves contract after heated debate over Marin social services agency

More than a year after it was uncovered, Bay Area education officials are dealing with the fallout from a scandal in which San Francisco Unified School district administrators used state and federal money to award themselves bonuses.

On Wednesday night, the Berkeley Unified School District took pains to assure parents that Bay Area Community Resources, a San Rafael-based social services agency that became ensnared in the scandal, will face rigorous scrutiny while administering a Berkeley after-school program.

Deputy superintendent Javetta Cleveland, an accountant by training, told the crowd: “I also have a fraud background so I’ve actually uncovered fraud. I would definitely make sure that B.A.C.R. steps up to the plate, provides us with back-up documentation on our financial reports, make sure that the cash is there.”

The Berkeley Board eventually voted 5-0 to renew its contract with B.A.C.R. But it was only after a fraught 30-minute discussion in which administrators promised to avoid a repeat of San Francisco, in which S.F.U.S.D. administrators funneled thousands of dollars in illegitimate payments through B.A.C.R.

B.A.C.R., the region’s largest after-school provider, holds contracts with more than 50 schools in seven Bay Area counties to provide financial management and direct student services. It is believed that other school districts are reviewing their relationships with B.A.C.R. following the scandal.

Complicating the debate in Berkeley, the organization’s former treasurer, Ruth Rubalcava, has two children who attend Jefferson Elementary. Rubalcava resigned last May. Her resignation letter said that B.A.C.R. kept S.F.U.S.D administrators, who directed millions of dollars to the agency, on its payroll and borrowed money from district funds without authorization by the board of education.

The issue has sharply divided Jefferson parents.

Mary Leichliter, the mother of a second-grade girl and an opponent of the B.A.C.R. contract, told the board that the San Francisco case suggests that B.A.C.R. “left the door to the bank open while the thieves took the money. There has to be a better fiscal agency.”

But others expressed concern that without B.A.C.R. the school would lose its afterschool program altogether because the district cannot afford to provide the services.

“My main concern about the controversy is that the program will go away,” said Gregg King said, whose daughter attends first grade at Jefferson. “I love the program. It’s safe and she gets to do a lot of different activities.”

Superintendent William Huyett underscored B.U.S.D.’s “20-year” relationship with the agency.

“We’ve had a clean track record with them,” he told parents. “We’ve found them very responsible and very responsive.”

The controversy has prompted Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, a union of teaching assistants and school office workers, to file a petition in Alameda County Superior Court against the district for contracting out services in breach of the California Education Code.

Union president Paula Phillips said state regulations prohibit B.U.S.D. from hiring contractors to perform duties that union staff can do. In light of the union’s actions, she said, she was shocked that the board approved the B.A.C.R. contract.

“It’s going to cost them a lot more money in legal fees,” she said.

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