A state legislative auditor’s review has found that the Minneapolis Urban League did not inappropriately double-bill for services at its alternative high school and a state-funded program called the 13th Grade.
The Urban League released a letter late Thursday with that finding from the Office of the Legislative Auditor. It came seven weeks after a Star Tribune report that Minnesota Department of Education and Minneapolis Public School officials were looking into whether the Urban League was getting paid twice for the same work.
“We were unable to substantiate the alleged improprieties relating to double billing by the MUL,” the letter from Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said. Audit director Brad White said that staff and overhead costs seemed to be properly allocated between the two separately funded programs.
Urban League officials had forcefully objected to the criticism of Minneapolis school leaders and state education officials, penning opinion pieces and telling contributors that nothing inappropriate had occurred.
“We’re pleased that it was a finding that there had been no improprieties. We’ve said that all along,” said the organization’s interim president, Steven Belton. “Clearly there was a misunderstanding and we’re glad that’s cleared up.”
Minneapolis schools interim Superintendent Michael Goar said he had initial concerns about the Urban League’s billing.
“We were told that there was initial data showing double billing,” he said. “We wanted to make sure if there is a double billing, then there is a problem that needs to be fixed. I am pleased for the Urban League.”
State education officials could not be reached for comment.
The School District awarded the Urban League Academy up to $800,000 to help students failing to get diplomas from Minneapolis high schools. It is one of several alternative high schools the district funds to graduate students struggling in traditional high schools. Two years ago, legislators gave the organization $300,000 a year for a program initially designed to also help struggling students get a high school diploma or secure a job.
State records showed the Urban League placed some of the students in both programs and only a small fraction graduated. The state’s education commissioner has said her office has no other details about the 13th Grade program because legislators stripped accountability provisions from the grant measure. State education officials were able to ensure money was not being used for inappropriate expenses.
The legislative auditor said they did not review the success of the 13th Grade, the state-funded program. Auditors found that there were some students who took part in both programs, but that the Urban League billed for those services appropriately.
The Urban League kept separate financial records and was careful to divide common costs — such as rent and staffing — between the two programs, auditors found.
Urban League officials decided last month to close its alternative high school, saying the contributions from the school district were no longer sufficient to keep the school running.
The school was set to close Friday, ending a 40-year partnership with the public schools.
Minneapolis school officials originally proposed a one-year renewal of its contract after raising concerns about the academy’s lack of success in graduating the city’s most troubled high school students. That deal fell apart when the Urban League told the district it was leasing its school space to a start-up charter school, which would provide more money for the organization.
Meanwhile, the Legislature this session has not funded the 13th Grade program for the next two years. Two DFL legislators from Minneapolis, Sens. Jeff Hayden and Bobby Joe Champion, pushed hard in 2013 for initial 13th Grade funding. They tried to triple the amount to $1.8 million over the next two years.
The Minneapolis-only program was intended to help those between ages 16 and 24 complete secondary schooling and get a job or get into college.
Belton said the Urban League will continue to advocate for meeting the needs of struggling students who had been served by the two programs, and said he’d already reached out to education officials to make that point.