By Jason Islas
October 17, 2012 -- Three months after the City told Santa Monica's Pico Youth and Family Center administrators they had until December to get their affairs in order or the Center could risk losing City funding, PYFC is on its way to recovery.
The organization, which has received nearly $4 million in City funds over its 12 year history in order to reach out to at-risk youth, has been working with City-appointed consultants for the last three months to fix “incorrect record keeping and inaccurate accounting practices” as well as “unusual instability” in the nonprofit's governing board.
“I'm quite optimistic at this point,” said Amanda Seward, chair of the PYFC board, adding that with the help of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE), the organization had managed to tackle two years of bookkeeping problems.
On September 27, PYFC paid back $17,878 of City funds, which had been used to pay overpay employee contributions to retirement funds, after SEE and PYFC officials untangled the books.
The City originally claimed that $28,088 of City funds had been mismanaged, but after some investigation, that number was reduced to the $17,878.
“It took quite a bit of time for that to be disentangled,” said Julie Rusk, assistant director of Community & Cultural Services. “The concerns were serious because when you have tax payer money, it has to be spent according to the law.”
This was a result of “simple administrative problems,” said Seward. “We didn't have the administrative expertise.”
Those administrative problems led to PYFC Founder Oscar de la Torre being issued a duplicate pay check in October 2010 and an office manager being issued two duplicate checks in October and November 2010, according to the May report.
That money was returned to the City, but only after “several rounds of inquiry.”
As a result, PYFC officials are working with a consultant to study best practices in nonprofit administration.
“They set up a payroll, and that's been going well,” said Rusk.
The PYFC Board is responsible for overseeing the administration of the nonprofit, including its finances, according to City staff. As a result, the Board has undergone some restructuring.
“We have some new board members and the ones that were here have stepped up,” said Seward.
According to the organization's bylaws, the Board should have at least 11 members, which until now, it hadn't.
But Seward said there are now 13 board members, including Captain Wendell Shirley with the Santa Monica Police Department.
“One of the problems that the youth have is their relationship with the police,” said Seward. “Captain Shirley is helping us bridge that gap between the youth and the police.”
And though PYFC has shown some improvement, there is still work to be done.
PYFC was meant to target “ages 16-24,” according to the May report. “Youth were to meet one or more of the following criteria: dropped out of local schools; enrolled at Olympic Continuation High School after dismissal from Santa Monica High School; were formerly incarcerated; identified as serious habitual offenders; or on parole or probation.”
Until now, the emphasis has been on younger children, from 14 years old, said Seward.
“The city contract requires us to reach 50 of those at-risk youth,” said Seward, referring to the 16-24 year-old range. “Right now, we are at 30.”
“We're a little bit behind. We could reach more African-Americans,” she said.
Out of the 30 at-risk youth, three are African-American, she said. “The point is to address this conflict between Latino and African-American communities.”
“We're still very much in the process of assessing how it's going,” said Julie Rusk.
Seward said that the organization will go before the Council in December because that's when the Council would decide whether to renew funding for PYFC, which receives $307,532 annually.