Audit forces cuts in after-school program

A Richmond County program meant to keep children off the street and in school, and provide training for adults, has been greatly reduced, part of the fallout from the alleged criminal activity of three former state employees.

 

"It's unfortunate that the children are having to pay the price, the families are having to pay the price, but it's the hand we've been dealt," said Kay Crawford, 21st Century Community Learning Centers' project director for Richmond County.

The program reduced its staff from 21 employees to nine and its sites from nine to three, Ms. Crawford said. Some child and family services, such as parenting classes, also have been reduced. The 21st Century program will continue offering GED classes, but it will no longer pay the $90 fee for the GED test.

The 21st Century program is a federal grant program that bridges the hours between when school lets out and the evening, opening school buildings up to the public, Ms. Crawford said.

But a state audit released in January found that the most deserving weren't the ones receiving the federal money. Instead, according to a state auditor, three employees of the Georgia Department of Education rigged the grant application process and channeled money to less deserving programs they had financial ties to. They then masked their actions by doling out money without "rhyme or reason" to other grant applicants. The employees no longer work for the state department, and the matter has been referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"I went online and read the audit report and was appalled, absolutely appalled," Ms. Crawford recalled. "My fear was for my staff and it was for my students."

Richmond County should be in the third year of the five-year grant. But because the process was flawed, the State Department of Education threw out the grants and made everyone reapply for this fiscal year. The department capped grants at $350,000 for the new application process. Although Richmond County was awarded a grant, its $350,000 was less than the $529,000 it received last year and had expected to receive again this year.

"They reduced it down to an amount that makes it really difficult to make it," Ms. Crawford said. "There's no way we'll be able to run it year-round."

The 21st Century program is usually up and running in August, but Richmond County wasn't notified that it had received the grant for the school year until mid-August. She hopes the services can be in place by mid-October.

A local audit released in March commended the 21st Century program's work in Richmond County. MGT of America commended Richmond County's efforts to improve literacy and expand skills necessary for work.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.