Peralta Disputes Audit Report

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The Peralta Community College District, which runs Berkeley's Vista Community College, was cited by the state for underpaying teachers by a total of $500,000, a deputy state auditor said yesterday.

The recent State Audit Report released on October 12 said several community college districts are not accurately reporting the amount of money given to instructors.

"Districts are not spending as much as they should on classroom instruction," said Philip Jelicich, deputy state auditor.

In fact, the percentage of money spent on instructors for Peralta compared to overall expenditures is 49.18 percent. It should be 50 percent or above, according to the state law.

The objective of the audit was to discover if the state Chancellor's Office for Community Colleges is providing good oversight to the districts.

A state law established in 1961 requires colleges to spend half their educational expenses on instructors. Peralta was one of six districts found to have spent not enough money.

All together, the audit reported that the districts spent $10 million too little on their instructors.

The previous California State Auditor Summary Report, in January 2000, also said the chancellor's office is not properly monitoring instructional service agreements.

The agreements are contracts with private or public entities that provide training and services.

"We dispute the findings of the audit," said Jeff Heyman, a spokesperson for Peralta. "We are way above 50 percent."

Along with other districts, Peralta has issued complaints about the audit and is in contact with the chancellor's office.

Heyman finds fault with the way the audit was conducted, how funds are categorized, and the "definition of numbers." There are different categories for the district funds, such as "instructional" or "administration" costs.

The audit found administration expenditures incorrectly classified as though they were instructional. But Heyman maintains that the auditors lack understanding about the categories.

"Would you classify tutoring as instructional?" Heyman said. "Well, (the auditors) don't."

In the past, Peralta has been in accordance with the law, according to Tom Brougham, a member of the board of trustees. He said the board would support fixing any discrepancy.

"It may be that this will resolve itself or, in a month, it may be confirmed that there is a problem," he said.

The audit goes further to criticize the chancellor's office and its "weak oversight" in not ensuring that the colleges understand the law. In this way, the colleges were allowed to misreport their expenditures.

The audit made recommendations to the chancellor's office to help report accurately in the future. These include clarifying instructions, providing the districts with regular training on compliance, and performing routine, independent checks of the work accountants do for the district.

The audit started when the Santa Monica Faculty Union sued Santa Monica College, Jelicich said. The college denied the allegations and the judge dismissed the case asking the plaintiff to resolve the dispute with the chancellor's office.

According to Patrick Ryan, who is in charge of fiscal analysis at the chancellor's office, the dispute has been going on for three years.

The faculty members at Santa Monica asked for help from State Assemblymember Scott Wildman, D-Los Angeles, who asked for the audit.

Ryan also said the chancellor's office is working with fewer people and a smaller budget. They are relying on the local districts and bargaining units to negotiate pay and working conditions.


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