New Castle News

December 31, 2013

Top 10 Stories, Number 2: District says parents repaying tuition

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Parents who had failed to pay tuition to the New Castle school district are paying it now in installments.

According to superintendent John J. Sarandrea, the three parents who had been subject of an audit finding last year are making payments under a settlement agreement the district entered with them.

Sarandrea said all three are district employees who had hired attorneys and have agreed to the settlement terms.

He would not say how much each parent is repaying to the district, nor would he say how much each is paying in monthly installments, claiming that is not public information.

“We received the first checks from each of them.”

The tuition issue came to light earlier this year when the state auditor general’s office made its final audit report public for period spanning Feb. 2, 2010, through Sept. 12, 2012.

The district had been made aware of three audit findings in the fall of 2012 but responded to only two of them. The third — regarding the tuition matter — was ignored.

The finding was that three district employees, who lived outside the district, were parents of seven students who had attended city schools but failed to pay tuition for them during the years cited in the audit.

The staff members are Jamie Lynn DeMase of Neshannock Township, a teacher at Harry W. Lockley Kindergarten Center; Dinia Kollar of Pulaski, a third-grade teacher at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center; and Kelly Glies of Neshannock Township, a second-grade teacher at West Side Primary Center.

Although the audit report covered about a year and a half, upon discovering the matter, the state auditor general’s office looked at two other years as well. The finding showed the seven nonresident children of district employees had attended city schools for four years and tuition had not been paid for them.

The district was ordered to reimburse the state for $110,664 it had received as a state subsidy for those students.

The auditor general criticized the district for failing to obtain the required tuition and found both the Pennsylvania Public School Code and district policy had been violated.

The auditor general’s office recommended in its final audit report that the district should:

•Obtain and retain appropriate legal documentation to verify the guardianship and residency of all students enrolled with the district.

•Establish additional mechanisms to ensure district personnel who enroll students follow the provisions of the state school code and board policy.

•Establish accountability procedures to allow the administrators and board to monitor compliance with all internal processes.

•Bill the parents and pursue the collection of tuition owed to the district for the educational services the district provided.

George J. Gabriel was superintendent when the audit finding was brought to the district’s attention last year and it had declined to respond to the tuition finding. He has since retired and has been elected to the school board.

After his retirement, the district hired Sarandrea. Under his watch, a corrective action plan for the auditor general’s performance audit report was drafted, specifically addressing internal control weaknesses and violation of board policy that resulted in the loss of the parent-paid tuition.

That action plan was approved by the school board and submitted to the state.

Susan Woods, a spokeswoman for the auditor general’s office, said last week the district had declined twice to respond to the finding as part of the most recent audit process before it was finalized.

Any more recent action by the district would be entered into the papers for the next auditing round, which could be in two or three years, Woods said.

The final audit report simply notes the district declined, “and it just goes on record,” she said.

The state office posted the report online and distributed it to the governor, the secretary of education, the state treasurer, the state bureau of budget and management, the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

It is unknown whether there will be any further ramifications from those agencies as a result of the audit finding.

Attempts last week to reach Tim Eller in the Pennsylvania Department of Education press office were unsuccessful.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)