New Castle News


March 28, 2014

Our Opinion: Financial failings in local education create concerns

NEW CASTLE — We think it’s safe to say that taxpayers have high expectations of public school systems.

After all, they receive considerable public funding to perform the primary task assigned to them — the education of young people.

As part of these expectations, there is the assumption that school systems are professionally run and basic matters are handled efficiently and responsibly. If not, then what confidence is there that the more daunting responsibility of education is being properly addressed?

Yet in and around Lawrence County, we are dealing with several recent examples that suggest oversight — at least when it comes to financial matters — is severely lacking. For instance, reports this week in the New Castle News outlined problems uncovered in a forensic audit of finances at the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center.

Specifically, the audit claimed a former assistant business manager had received more than $92,000 in unauthorized overtime, including during periods she allegedly was on vacation. Criminal charges have been filed, although the defendant’s attorney cites “the ineptitude of others” as the real cause of the audit finding.

Certainly ineptitude was on display in this audit, which revealed a variety of failings in remarkably basic areas, including errors in tax withholding payments to the state and federal governments and the failure to properly balance bank accounts. Even data on salaries and wages was inaccurate, the audit found.

These revelations follow closely on the heels of two other local examples of dubious oversight. One dealt with the improper use of a credit card at the Intermediate Unit IV offices in Grove City, whose region includes Lawrence County. That finding also led to criminal charges.

And taxpayers learned last year that some non-resident teachers in the New Castle school district had been sending their children to city schools tuition free. How this was allowed to happen — and how long it has been going on — has never been fully explained to the public. Instead of demanding accountability, school officials have treated this as an internal matter, seeking to conceal the details.

In all of these cases, taxpayers have been told steps were taken to correct problems and address deficiencies. But we can’t help but notice that in all of these instances, the main problems do not appear to be particularly complicated or difficult to understand. Some basic management should have prevented them.

So why didn’t that happen, and what other problems are lurking out there?

And what level of tolerance do school officials think taxpayers have for these ongoing abuses?

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