New Castle News

May 18, 2013

New Castle Schools: Finding pinpoints nonpaying out-of-district pupils

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — New Castle school board members are waiting for the final determinations of a state audit that contained three preliminary findings.

Earlier this month the board publicly discussed those findings from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, and the district administration has responded to two of them to the Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General.

The third, which remains unanswered, addresses a total of $103,808 that the district should have collected in tuition from students the state identified as non-district residents during those years.

President David DiGiammarino said the board is considering policy that will require students registering to present specific documents such as income tax statements to verify where they live.

He said the state has not provided the names of the students who did not pay.



WHO ARE THEY?

Board member Barbara Razzano said she had given names of suspected students to the administration. She said she does not know if they are the same ones that prompted the audit finding.

Representatives of the auditor general briefed the board and administration about the findings at a private exit conference in October.

Business manager Joe Ambrosini explained the $103,808 is money the district received in its state basic education subsidy for the students.

“Because they weren’t district students, we have to give it back now,” he said, adding the state will withhold that money from a future subsidy.

It will be up to the district to try to collect it from the parents, he noted.

“We turn in daily subsidy reports” to the state, Ambrosini explained to the board. “It was calculated that we got X amount of subsidy for these kids attending our district. They’re saying we never should have received this money.”

For the 2009-10 school year, out-of-district tuition was $7,262 per student for elementary and $7,830 for secondary. The 2010-11 rates were $7,595 and $8,468, respectively.

DiGiammarino said the board needs to tighten policy and require more documents to prove residency, because students falsely using a grandparents or supposed guardian’s address to attend without paying are violating state law.

“We’ve lost this money twice,” board member Dr. Marilyn Berkely commented. She noted that first, the district was not paid tuition, and now the state is taking it away.

“There’s really no loss of money to the district,” retired superintendent George Gabriel countered in a phone conversation. “If these kids didn’t attend, we wouldn’t be getting that (subsidy) money in the first place. If they prove these (students) were out of city, we should not have received the money.”



ADDRESSING PROBLEM

DiGiammarino asked if the district can look back through registration files and make sure the required documentation was provided.

Ambrosini cautioned the district has to wait until the audit is finalized by the auditor general’s office to obtain the names in question, but that does not stop the board from adopting a procedure for future registration.

Gabriel commented that policing out-of-district residency is not a typical practice for the superintendent, rather, that usually is left to the individual building administrators who register them.

However, Gabriel said he was made aware of two out-of-district families at the time covered by the audit who were not paying tuition.

Gabriel said he talked to the two families in question and they had the documentation the district would require that indicated the students were residents. Those included sworn and notarized affidavits, he said.

“I was satisfied, but obviously the auditor general wasn’t satisfied. This is not something I slept on.”

He said he also sent letters to the parents/guardians saying that after a certain date, “your child no longer will be permitted to enter the buildings.”

He said the superintendent’s office has a folder about six inches thick containing follow-up letters from the district to families.

The district had employed someone to verify residency of students who were reported as non-residents, but the board eliminated the position two years ago as a budget cut, Gabriel pointed out.



EXISTING POLICY

The district has a non-resident policy, viewable on its website as “policy manual” which is under the district tab, that gives the school board responsibility for requiring the appropriate registration documentation.

It states the board shall require that legal documentation with proof of dependency or guardianship or a sworn statement of residential support, be filed with the board secretary before an eligible non-resident student may be accepted in the district.

The board may require a resident to submit additional information to substantiate a sworn statement, in accordance with guidelines of the state department of education, the policy says.

The board reserves the right to verify proof of residency, dependency and guardianship and to remove from school attendance a nonresident student whose documents are invalid, according to the policy.

The policy also requires the superintendent to recommend to the board the admission of qualified applicants.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)