New Castle News

New Castle

July 24, 2013

Our Opinion: Abuse of taxpayers in tuition case generates no outrage by New Castle school officials

NEW CASTLE — So let’s review:

A report by the Pennsylvania auditor general’s office found that non-resident employees of the New Castle school district had been sending their children to city schools.

However, these employees were not paying the legally required tuition. The auditor general found $110,664 worth of tuition that wasn’t paid. As a result, the district did not get the tuition from these parents, plus it had to return state subsidy funds that had covered those students.

Furthermore, the districts where these students actually lived did not receive the subsidy either — because they didn’t attend schools there.

Who picks up the tab for all of this? Why the local taxpayers do, of course.

Now, a prudent and ethically upright person might wonder what’s being done about all of this. For instance, how does the district intend to get its money back? Who were these people and how did they get away with it? Was there any collusion? Did district officials look the other way? Are there any plans to press criminal charges in a matter that is difficult to excuse as carelessness or a mistake?

And perhaps most significant: If these are the cases the auditor general’s office knew about, how many others were there?

These are the sorts of questions we’ve had at the New Castle News. And we believe it is our responsibility as the community’s newspaper to find the answers and report them to the public.

As part of this process, the newspaper submitted a right to know request to the school district, asking for assorted information. For instance, we wanted to know who these employees are and who was involved in overseeing residency issues.

On Monday, The News received its answer in a letter from the district dated July 16. Basically, the answer was no, but it was the reason we found most interesting.

We were told that the records we requested do not exist and that the district is not required under the open records law to produce them.

Let’s think about that for a moment. The district is saying it has no record of who these employees are.

Now, if you ran a business and an auditor told you employees were using company services without paying for them, wouldn’t you be just a tiny bit curious about who those employees are?

Wouldn’t you be taking steps to get your money back, and even seeking to have these employees fired or criminally prosecuted?

Not in the New Castle school district. There, the administration is apparently claiming it doesn’t even have a record identifying the people involved.

Needless to say, The News will continue to pursue these records via appeal. But meanwhile, we think city residents ought to be asking their administrators and board members what’s going on here. Curiosity and public accountability seem to be in short supply in the district.

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