New Castle News

June 27, 2013

Board preparing to bill parents for tuition

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE —

The New Castle school district has not yet released parents’ names whose non-resident children attended city schools without paying.

But according to public discussions at the board’s policy committee meeting last week, the board intends to bill those parents for back tuition.

The New Castle News submitted a request on Tuesday for information for the names of those parents, who according to a recent audit finding are district employees.

Acting superintendent Stanley Magusiak said yesterday he intends to consult with the district solicitor to determine whether the district can legally make the names public.

He said it is unknown whether there will be any sanctions against those parents as employees, if the district finds the children’s enrollment was not legitimate.

“I don’t know how they’re going to follow through at this point,” Magusiak said of the board.

His last day as acting superintendent is Friday. The school board hired John Sarandrea as the district’s new superintendent on Tuesday, and tackling the tuition issue will be one of his first responsibilities. He takes office Monday.

 

THE FINDING

The state auditor general’s office, in an audit report released last month, determined that seven non-resident students attended prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade in district schools spanning the years 2008-09 through 2011-12, but their parents did not pay tuition for them.

As a result, the district has to repay $110,664 to the state — money it received in state subsidy for those children.

The audit says the matter violates state school code and school board policy.

The audit covered the period from Feb. 2, 2010, through Sept. 2012, but was expanded to the other years to examine the enrollment noncompliance.

At different times during the cited school years, seven children of district employees were enrolled as resident students, even though a review of payroll records showed the employees lived outside district boundaries, the audit showed.

The auditors found those students’ registration forms on file at the district showed their homes were within the district boundaries.

Five of their forms showed they lived in the district with their parents, while two students’ forms showed they lived with their grandparents.

No affidavits, custody agreements or other legal documents showing legal guardianship were provided for two students said to have been living with grandparents.

The auditors noted that residency could easily have been verified by reviewing the district’s payroll records.

The report notes that the district administration waived the opportunity to reply to the preliminary finding.

Management at the time was under now-retired Superintendent George J. Gabriel, who sat in on a private conference with the auditors and board members when the findings were first revealed.

 

BILLING THE PARENTS

The audit report recommends the district bill the parents to pursue collection of the tuition owed, and the board at its meeting resolved to do that.

The board also is re-examining its policy, looking at ways to strengthen it where residency is concerned.

And it is considering whether to establish a committee or appoint someone or an agency to be watchdog over the enrollment and residency records.

“The policy isn’t bad,” board president David DiGiammarino said. “It’s the enforcement where (the district) dropped the ball.”

District policy currently requires immunization records, proof of a child’s age, proof of residency and a sworn statement by parents.

Board policy committee chairwoman Barbara Razzano said she learned from the auditor general’s office that a lot of districts are requiring IRS tax forms as proof of residency.

“It’s a year-round issue of who’s claiming the child,” she said.

DiGiammarino said that in notifying the parents, they will be told that the burden of proof is on them.

“If we don’t have this information in the files, they get billed, and it’s up to them to rectify this or they have the problem,” he said.

“There will be an appeal procedure,” he continued. “We will give them 10 to 15 days, with payment terms. If they don’t pay, they will be turned over for collections. If we can’t resolve it there, it gets turned in to legal authorities.”

 

BOARD MEMBER INPUT

“Those individuals received a free education,” board member Anna Pascarella pointed out. “We provided a service and didn’t get paid for it.”

“This is a horrible embarrassment,” Dr. Marilyn K. Berkely commented. “This is disgusting.”

“I think this has to happen and it has to happen quick,” DiGiammarino said of sending out the bills. “I agree 100 percent with an appeal procedure because there may be outstanding circumstances, but if you’re here and you’re not supposed to be here, you better be paying.”