The County Grand Jury, reacting to what it called "numerous articles in the media as well as complaints from concerned citizens," said Monday it will commission a management audit of Los Angeles Community College District.
"This will not be a criminal investigation," audit committee Chairman David A. Johnson said, but instead will seek to judge whether administrators for the nine-college district are wisely spending their $216-million budget.
Johnson also called the audit, to be conducted by the accounting firm of Arthur Young, a somewhat routine undertaking.
The college district has been repeatedly attacked in recent years by its own faculty and by campus newspapers and accused of wasteful or unwise spending. The targets have ranged from the district's headquarters in a downtown office building, which costs more than $1.2 million a year, to a $4,500 car telephone used by district chancellor Leslie Koltai.
District officials, giving credence to reports of management troubles, announced in June that the college system was out of money and needed a loan from the county to finish the year.
But Koltai has contended that the main problem for the two-year colleges is trying to "downsize the operation" in the face of a steep enrollment decline. Since 1982, the nine colleges have lost more than 40,000 students, and the district's revenues are tied to the number of students taking classes. As a result, Koltai said recently, the colleges have had more faculty, administrators and staff than the district can afford.
Just last week, however, the college board received a report from its own auditors charging that the district's management controls were lax in spots and that budget problems were not pinpointed in a "timely" manner.
Lindsay Conners, a member of the trustees' audit committee, described the district Monday as "an educational institution that is used to living well" yet is now undergoing "the painful adjustment" of cutting back.
At first, district officials sought to use reserves "to buffer the reductions" in revenues, he said.
"We have come to the end of that road. We are out of reserves, and we need to manage aggressively now to make sure that our income matches our expenses," Conners said.
Last week, after receiving the audit report, the board announced that it would lay off its administrators and other employees for two weeks in the spring and will seek to cut a week's vacation from faculty salaries. Conners also said the board will look at options in January for getting out of its 10-year lease in the downtown office building.