New Castle News

New Castle

May 21, 2013

Our Opinion: State audit says city school district failed to collect from non-residents

NEW CASTLE — Audit information about non-resident students who didn’t pay tuition at New Castle raises more questions than it answers.

At least so far. We expect more details when the Pennsylvania auditor general’s office completes its report and the New Castle school district provides its response.

What we do know is this: The auditor general’s staff, looking at the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, claims students who weren’t residents of the district attended city schools with no payment of required tuition.

The number of students and who they are has not been released. But it was revealed the district should have collected tuition for these students.

Instead, the district received more than $103,000 in state subsidy, which now must be paid back. Unless the district successfully pushes for the parents of these children to make the tuition payments, the district will be out this money.

How the auditor general’s office identified these students is unclear at this point. School board member Barbara Razzano said she previously had given to the administration names of students she believed were non-residents, but doesn’t know if they are the same ones the auditor general found.

However, we would think that if there was evidence non-resident students were obtaining a free education in city schools, the administration would act on its own. So the obvious question is: Why didn’t it, and what did the auditor general know that the city school administration didn’t?

Meanwhile, left unanswered in all of this is whether this is a larger problem. The audit covered only two years. Has this been a continuing issue?

We would like to see who was receiving this tuition-free education and what evidence they provided to the district as supposed proof of residency. If false or misleading identification was provided, this might not be just a matter of paying tuition, it also could warrant a criminal investigation if there was a deliberate intent to deceive.

David DiGiammarino, school board president, said the district needs to improve its procedures for documenting whether or not students are district residents. Obviously, that’s a step in the right direction. But again, the school board needs to gain an understanding of how the auditor general could identify these students and the district could not.

After all, this is money the New Castle school district can ill afford to let slide. If parents of non-resident students avoid paying tuition, that means city taxpayers ultimately pick up the tab. We suspect property owners in New Castle aren’t pleased with this situation.

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