New Castle News

July 29, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: Citizens must act amid scandal

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE —

This is a tale of two school systems.

In one, a scandal erupts and the board and administration wrestle with it. But they act aggressively and a top official is forced to resign.

And although they could have made the case to keep matters quiet, they publicly produced details of an audit report and turned matters over to law enforcement for further investigation.

In the second, a scandal of another sort arises. Yet this affair involves multiple individuals, rather than just one. But instead of being open, officials in this school system make every effort to protect the parties responsible. No names are revealed and no move is made to get police and prosecutors involved.

Despite the loss to taxpayers, citizens are kept in the dark as much as possible.

Readers of the New Castle News will recognize these two tales. The first involves Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, where revelations the former executive director allegedly was using the organization’s credit card for personal benefit were openly discussed and dealt with.

This despite the fact the affair was an embarrassment to the unit, not only casting a cloud over its leadership, but calling into question its oversight of spending.

However, the decision was made that the responsible move was to be up front and let the chips fall where they may. It was the right thing to do.

The second story, of course, involves the New Castle school district and recent revelations that several employees had received free tuition for their non-resident students.

But here, coming clean and standing up for the public’s right to know wasn’t viewed as an option. In a style sadly typical for this district, the wagons were circled and the citizens were left on the outside looking in.

Despite the fact multiple people were involved and there are serious questions of how all of this could happen without the knowledge of administrators, no information is forthcoming. And there has been no movement to turn the matter over to law enforcement to get to the bottom of things.

Instead, The News has been stonewalled in its effort to obtain information about the people responsible. In essence, it’s none of our business and none of the public’s business. We’re told it will be handled — if it’s handled — internally by the same system that allowed it to occur in the first place.

Although many members of the public have urged us to pursue questions surrounding the tuition scandal, others have dismissed our efforts as meddling where we don’t belong. These individuals develop novel rationalizations for the abuse of taxpayers.

For instance, the case has been made that New Castle residents should be proud outsiders want to take advantage of the city education system, free of charge.

I guess through this same line of reasoning, if someone steals my car, rather than call the police I should celebrate the fact my choice in transportation has been embraced by others.

And, of course, we are told to consider the children of these employees. Think of the pain they will suffer if their parents are exposed for what they are.

The pages of The News are full of reports of people charged with crimes. I assume many of them have children, parents, grandparents and other relatives. Is that an excuse to protect them?

Citizens who get the sense New Castle’s tuition scandal is being swept under the rug need to take matters into their own hands. They should demand accountability from the administration and school board.

And absent that, they need to call on law enforcement to get involved independently. It’s the taxpayers who are the victims here and they have the ability to go to city or state police as well as the district attorney.