Saturday, September 7, 2013

San Francisco school group linked to alleged theft will close

A San Francisco nonprofit linked to the prosecution of six school district employees for charges including grand theft of public money will shut down by the end of the year.

The governing board of the San Francisco School Alliance, established in 2005 to generate financial and community support for the school district, voted this week to dissolve the organization.

Its last day of operation will be Dec. 1, said alliance officials, who announced the decision Friday afternoon.

The organization was one of three nonprofits allegedly used by the six district workers in a scheme to divert $15 million in government grants that were supposed to be used for after-school and health programs.

Instead, the employees lined their own pockets, prosecutors said. The six allegedly diverted $250,000 over 10 years for their personal use.

Trish Bascom, a former associate superintendent, and the five other workers face a combined total of 205 felony counts, including embezzlement and misuse of public funds. They were arrested and charged in May. Trial dates have not been set.

Officials from the nonprofits, which also included the Edgewood Center for Children and Families and Bay Area Community Resources, said they cooperated with the investigation.

All three organizations were acting as fiscal agents for the grant money, meaning they held the funds and provided oversight.

Bascom and the other five employees then directed how the money was spent.

While some was used for children's services, all of the $15 million was misspent, given the grant requirements.

The alliance reportedly held between $5.5 million and $6.3 million of the grant money and took $500,000 in administrative fees as the fiscal agent, said District Attorney George Gascón.

The nonprofit still has $1.4 million of that money, Gascón said in May.

There are conversations about the distribution of any grant money the alliance still owes to the district, said Rachel Norton, school board president.

While in recent years the alliance primarily operated as a fiscal agent for a range of the district's grant-funded programs, its original focus was on raising money and support for city schools.

"The School Alliance started as a way to help the district get philanthropic investments," Norton said, adding that there was significant school board turmoil at the time and questions about the district's credibility following a number of scandals. "It was at a time when no one was going to write a check directly to the district."

The alliance was a strong partner over the years, but it's time for the district to take over development efforts to build partnerships with foundations and other philanthropic partners, the school board president said.

Alliance officials agreed.

"It's like we're the mama bird and we're pushing the little bird out of the nest," said Phil Halperin, the organization's co-founder and former chairman of the board. "It's time for us to get out of the way and let them do the work. Our vision has been realized."

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