OAKLAND (CBS 5) — You may have seen them, children asking for donations at Bay Area BART stations.
Two years ago, a CBS 5 investigation raised questions about their school and fundraising practices. Now, a joint investigation with our media partners at California Watch is raising new questions about how the school is getting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
It’s a tedious job, especially for a child: asking for donations on a street corner, day after day.
A boy named Moses has been doing it for years.
CBS 5 first talked to him in an undercover investigation in 2010. He was fundraising near the Ferry Building in San Francisco and said he was raising money for the St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church Private School, located in West Oakland.
Our three month investigation then found the school sending students out to solicit money five days a week, often until after dark.
One young student said, “It’s called interpersonal communications class.” Another girl said the children had to go out fundraising Monday through Friday. And a third student told us they were usually out 5-to-6 hours a day.
The school’s pastor, Robert Lacy, didn’t want to talk to CBS 5 back then, saying “It’s the wrong time.”
After CBS 5’s report, the children disappeared for awhile. But now, they’re back.
“They would take us to the BART stations in Oakland,” said Courtney Corbitt. She left Saint Andrew in February.
Corbitt said Pastor Lacy still takes students out every day to panhandle.
She often rode in the same white van that we spotted dropping children off two years ago. “The seat belts didn’t work, we would sit on each others laps,” Corbitt said.
Other kids went out in the pastor’s Escalade. We followed it on a recent weekday afternoon across the Bay Bridge to downtown San Francisco, and watched Moses hitting the streets to panhandle.
There is no way of knowing just how much money the children bring in. Saint Andrew is a private religious school, so they not required to file tax forms. But a California Watch and CBS 5 joint investigation revealed Saint Andrew is getting lots of taxpayer money from the Federal Government.
Documents obtained from the Oakland Unified School District show the school was awarded $50,000 in federal funds this school year, based on a reported class size of 195 students.
In reality, there are nowhere near that many students.
“There’s like 23 people. Five adults and the rest were children,” Corbitt said. On a recent morning we saw three students waiting to get in at 8:30 a.m. Five more arrived in the school van an hour later, a total of 8 students for that day.
A state social worker documented only 12 students during a visit in March. Yet the school has been reporting up to 265 students a year, for the past 12 years, collecting hundreds of thousands in federal education dollars.
So what’s going on? CBS 5 tried asking Pastor Lacy, but once again he didn’t want to talk. Neither did anyone else at the school.
We took the question to the Oakland Unified School District. Spokesman Troy Flint said, “We don’t really have an enforcement role.”
Flint said the district’s job is just to disburse the federal funds. “It’s really more of a bureaucratic process,” he said.
CBS 5 asked Flint: “So someone can inflate the numbers and you wouldn’t even know it?”
His response: “Well you have to remember it’s a federal program.”
CBS 5: “I realize that, but the school district is in charge of doling out the money. So in some sense there’s a responsibility for you to make sure these numbers are accurate.”
Flint: “There’s no way we can verify enrollment at every single school that receives this money.”
Most of the money is awarded through contracts. The pastor’s wife Carrie Banks gets $100 an hour for teacher training. The pastor’s son Robert Lacy Jr. gets $40 an hour for teaching struggling students.
CBS 5 asked Flint if he didn’t think that was excessive. He said, “I am not aware of their compensation level.”
CBS 5: “It’s all in your documents, the school district’s approved. Is that acceptable?”
Flint: “Really, it’s according to the programmatic guidelines.”
How is the money benefitting students? Corbitt said half the time Robert Lacy wasn’t even in class. “We would just be by ourselves, like from the morning. And then he’ll come back at our lunchtime,” she said.
In fact the Courtney Corbitt and her mom Kelli said there wasn’t much learning going on at all. “The whole time I was there, we were working on the same chapter, chapter 5 in our math,” Courtney said.
When asked if that was acceptable, Oakland Unified spokesman Troy Flint said, “It’s not acceptable, but I think we need to draw a distinction between what’s unseemly and what’s illegal.”
For Kelli Corbitt it’s all been very frustrating. “It’s such a fraud, they have been doing this for so long,” Kelli Corbitt said. She took Courtney out of Saint Andrew after two months.
But she’s still worried for the kids left behind. “They need to be shut down, and those kids need to be taken away from the pastor,” Kelli Corbitt said.
The Oakland Unified School District said that they talked about the issues we raised with the California Department of Education. But when we talked to state authorities, they referred us back to Oakland.
Also, neither the pastor’s wife nor his son has teaching credentials. But those credentials also are not necessary.
To read the full story from California Watch, go to http://californiawatch.org/node/16428.
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