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Doing battle with the ghost of bills past

August 03, 2002

As If You Asked

Collecting money owed is staple of making it through tough times,

and that's part of the reason the Burbank Unified School District is

hounding the city of Glendale for more than $400,000 it claims to be

owed, even warning, a la a credit card company, that the matter will

be "turned over to our legal counsel" if the bill isn't paid.

Incredibly, one of the bills BUSD submitted in recent months was

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for work done five years ago under a program that hasn't existed for

two years.

According to officials with the BUSD, Glendale's City Hall has

bungled its role overseeing disbursement of funds locally for two

federal programs. According to Glendale officials, the BUSD has

repeatedly failed to respond to warnings and reminders, and aside

from submitting invoices for work supposedly done five years ago, the

school district is demanding money for more recent programs without

providing documentation the city is obliged to demand.

A closer look indicates truth in each side's claims, though

neither party is nearly as irked by their own failures as they are

outraged by the other's.

The cities of Glendale, Burbank and La Canada Flintridge formed a

joint powers agreement several years ago to create a "service

delivery area" and qualify for federal efforts that pay for various

job placement and training programs. When any of the region's various

institutions perform work that qualifies, their requests to be paid

are administered by the city of Glendale. In Burbank, the school

district's Adult School has been a provider of those services.

The BUSD's finances are infamous these days, with the school board

having had to use to layoffs and other cutbacks to make up a

$3-million deficit for the coming school year. Rising costs and

lower-than-expected attendance played a role, but the Burbank

district was rocked in recent months by a series of discoveries of

major errors in district's books.

For example, in developing the budget for the coming school year,

someone simply forgot more than $1 million in known special education

costs, and the perceived surplus was appropriated elsewhere. In the

midst of a massive building and remodeling program, school board

members also said they hadn't anticipated drastic increases in the

district's electric usage for air conditioning and computer systems

that didn't exist last year.

A years-overdue audit of district books and the hiring of a new

finance manager brought many problems to light. Among the revelations

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