State officials say at least eight California school districts have misappropriated from funds intended to provide meals to low-income students.
A report issued Wednesday by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes says the California Department of Education recently ordered districts to repay nearly $170 million to their student meal programs.
The state said San Diego Unified School District improperly charged $4.5 million dollars to its cafeteria fund to pay for custodial and utility bills in cafeterias. The report published by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes states that SDUSD "failed to document a sharp increase in custodial time and charges assigned to the cafeteria fund."
The school district said it was caused by a dramatic increase in meals being served. In the last five years, the district says the number of students eating school lunches has increased by 60 percent.
Also, the district says it has consistently had to use its general fund to pay for cafeteria costs. Once the cafeteria program started earning more money with students buying lunch, the district says it was able to start charging the cafeteria fund for its custodians.
This is something the District says is legal and something it has needed to do a long time ago and is no different that what other districts -- not on the state list have been doing.
The report says state officials identified more than $158 million in misappropriations and unallowable charges at the Los Angeles Unified School District.
LAUSD officials did not immediately provide comment on the report.
Other districts with unallowable charges include San Diego, Santa Ana, San Francisco and Compton. The San Diego and Santa Ana districts are challenging the department's findings.
State officials say the cases in the report may only represent a fraction of cafeteria fund misuse statewide.