New Castle News

Closer Look

April 18, 2013

Our Opinion: State report of New Castle district remains in the dark

NEW CASTLE — An old saying goes that rumors are always worse than the truth.

That’s why we are baffled by the way the New Castle Area School Board is handling a review of a state audit.

The audit in question was prepared by the Pennsylvania auditor general’s office. It’s a regular audit, something the office does with every school district in the commonwealth.

In recent weeks, the city school board has twice scheduled public meetings to discuss the results of the audit. And twice those discussions have been delayed to a later date.

And requests from the New Castle News for a copy of the audit have been turned down, on the grounds it is not yet a final document.

A little explanation is in order here. The auditor general’s office will release audit reports of school districts. It even posts them online.

But this occurs only after the document has been presented to the school district in question, which then has the opportunity to challenge any findings it believes are flawed. There is back and forth between the auditors and the district until the document is final.

Then — and only then — is the audit made available to the people who paid for it: The taxpayers.

We see this as business as usual in Pennsylvania, where citizens are the last to know. It’s a consequence of Pennsylvania’s paternalistic system of government, where authorities historically have treated government information as their own, rather than the people’s.

But the stance of the auditor general’s office does not preclude an individual school district from allowing public access to the issue. We thought that’s what New Castle was doing, but it has twice canceled discussions.

We are not sure what’s in this audit. But if there are matters for discussion, we have to presume the auditor general’s office found some problems. Otherwise, it would just be approved.

We’re sure members of the public reach similar conclusions when they read that public reviews of the audit are being delayed. And the way things work, we’re equally sure there are rumors flying about as to what’s being concealed.

That’s not helpful to the district. To the contrary, it eats away at public confidence. And when the report is released, if the findings turn out to be something less than dramatic, it may not matter much. Public perception may already have been set.

Our advice to the New Castle school board is to deal with the audit as soon and as openly as possible. Regardless of any bad news it contains, that’s the best way to handle it.

Dragging it out further does not serve the district.

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