Originally created 11/22/06

Education grant use criticized in report



ATLANTA - The State Department of Education hasn't done a good enough job of overseeing nearly $11 million in grants meant to get students and teachers more interested in science and math, according to a state audit.

The report said the state had, through the department, given Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers, Inc., a nonprofit contractor, $11 million since 1993 to boost interest and achievement in the targeted areas.

"Our review, however, found little evidence to indicate that the funds are being used in an efficient or effective manner," said the report, produced by the State Department of Audits and Accounts.

The report points to the vagueness of the education agency's contracts with GYSTC and peculiarities in the program, which was meant to be targeted to parts of the state that are "underserved." But the report says the contract doesn't specify which areas of the state are "underserved" by other programs.

"Large portions of Georgia, particularly in the south central and southeast areas of the state, are not benefiting from the state grant, and GYSTC is not providing members services in 23 (43%) of Georgia's 53 poorest counties," the report said.

The audit couldn't find an explanation for how much money was given to GYSTC or a reason the money was equally divided among the 13 different regional centers used by GYSTC to reach out to local school systems, although the amount of work varies among centers.

The report did raise some specific questions about how the grant money was used and whether GYSTC's employees should be covered by the state's health-care and retirement programs.

For example, 43 percent of the money the state gave the organization in the fiscal year that ended June 30 was spent on the organization's headquarters, which the report said "seems excessive."

And while the audit noted the organization's contention that its employees' coverage by the state's benefits plans came from its beginnings at Southern Polytechnic State University, "GYSTC could not cite any law, rule or regulation authorizing its employees to participate in the state benefits programs."

The report recommends re-examining the state's relationship with the organization.

"If the state grant for GYSTC is continued, action should be taken to require GYSTC to demonstrate its overall effectiveness as a condition for receiving state funds," it said.

In its response to the audit, the education agency said it would work with GYSTC to make almost all of the changes called for by the report.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.