More funny money at City College

Money earmarked for public education has gone to promote bond acts that bring in money for the district

EDITORIAL The chancellor and the board of the San Francisco Community College District have tried hard to act as if the diversion of $30,000 in public funds for political purposes was just an isolated error, easily fixed. But as G.W. Schulz reports on page 14, an audit has found at least one other diversion, this time of at least $28,670 — and it's starting to look as if there's a pattern here.

The college administration, possibly with the knowledge of some of the trustees, has been spending public money on political campaigns. Money earmarked for public education has gone to promote bond acts that bring in money for the district — and that's not only sleazy and unethical, it's clearly a violation of law.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris is reportedly looking at the second diversion — but she needs to expand the probe immediately. If the administration of the outgoing Chancellor Philip Day shuttled public cash to bond campaigns twice, there's a good chance it happened a few more times. And at a certain point, this rises to the level of serious criminal charges.

The first diversion, first reported in the Chronicle, involved a $30,000 payment from a motorcycle school that was using college parking lots for its classes. That rent money never made it into the public coffers; instead, it wound up helping to pay for the campaign for the latest round of City College bonds.

The latest revelation is just as smelly: the Foundation of the City College of San Francisco, a nonprofit that takes in donations for the school, gave $35,000 on November 6, 2006, to a political group that supports statewide college bond elections. A day later, on Nov. 7, the college itself handed $38,670 (the school's $28,670 and another $10,000 in private money) to the foundation. That's odd in and of itself — the foundation usually gives money to the school, not the other way around. And the timing is highly suspect; given the history of questionable financial moves at City College, the idea that some administrator would use the foundation to launder a cash contribution to a political group is not at all beyond the imagination.

The college board needs to hire its own special counsel to check every contribution to local college bond acts to see if there's any more evidence of improper diversion of public funds. But an internal audit isn't enough; Harris needs to look into this and make public her findings.

City College is a valuable public institution, and for years, the people running it have undermined public confidence in its financial integrity. That's a crime itself — and if someone broke the law along the way, the district attorney has to make clear that it won't be tolerated.