When the Uptown Learning Center in New Orleans, a highly rated Uptown day care center, announced it was closing last year, parents were shocked and confused.
The vague rationale given — financial concerns, “unforeseen developments” and staffing issues — did little to assuage parents, who protested until administrators backtracked, keeping the facility open long past its planned February shutdown.
Months later, however, New Orleans police revealed what the real trouble was: Uptown’s director, Natasha M. Burrows, had pilfered tens of thousands of dollars in tuition payments, a theft that imperiled the organization’s finances.
How Burrows, 37, managed to steal more than $187,000 from the now-closed day care over two years is detailed in an independent audit released this week, which turns a critical eye on the organization’s failure to safeguard its assets.
Because there were no “controls over cash receipts,” auditors with accounting firm Carr Riggs & Ingram said, Burrows was able to collect thousands of dollars in tuition payments that she ultimately withheld from the center’s parent organization, Arc of Greater New Orleans.
She offered parents discounts if they would pay in cash, police said in an April 2015 arrest warrant.
To hide her theft over time, Burrows underreported the number of students attending the day care, according to the news website Uptown Messenger, which first reported her arrest last year.
Burrows was later charged with felony theft; she pleaded guilty in December. She was sentenced to five years in prison, which was suspended while she serves probation. She also was ordered to pay court costs, fines and restitution of more than $4,000, court records show.
Arc’s insurance company, Granite State, also sued in Orleans Parish Civil District Court to have Burrows replace what she took.
The day care had been in operation, serving students with and without disabilities, for at least 15 years.
Arc plans to reopen the Nashville Avenue center in the near future as a center for adults with intellectual disabilities, rather than a children’s day care, Executive Director Cliff Doescher said.
“The future of Arc of Greater New Orleans remains strong, and we will continue to provide a variety of quality services throughout Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany parishes,” Doescher said.
A firm opening date has not been set.
The center, which had typically served up to 85 children daily, had received a three-star rating under the state’s Quality Start child care rating program.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.