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March 27, 2014

Official sorting out vo-tech finances

NEW CASTLE — The Lawrence County Career and Technical Center is plowing through a financial quagmire with help from the Laurel School District.

Leonard A. Rich, the vocational-technical school’s director, has praised the efforts of Laurel business manager Mary Kosek, who has been working with him to help straighten out enrollment debts to member school districts and realign payroll and other financial systems.

In September, the center contracted with Laurel for financial consulting help after its assistant business manager, Chastity Williams, resigned at the end of August.

Following a forensic audit ordered by the school’s joint operating committee, Williams was arrested on felony charges earlier this month, accused of accepting $92,412 in unauthorized overtime pay from the center.

The vo-tech school is subsidizing $18,000 of Kosek’s salary at Laurel to help with its finances, and she is working two jobs, Rich explained last week.

Kosek and Rich are working together “to get a hold on spending” to see what revenues and bills are coming in and to calculate the average daily enrollment numbers, he said.

From December through February, “we believe we’d been going through the dark.”

Now it’s time to construct the 2014-15 school budget and they are trying to come up with a satisfactory spending plan, Rich said.

The budget must be proposed next month in order for the majority of member school district boards to vote on it at their meetings before June 30.

On Tuesday, Kosek, declined comment on her work with Rich, “for now.”

Rich said they also are trying to figure out how much money the vo-tech school owes to its member districts for the differences between projected and actual enrollments for each of the past three years.

The member districts typically pay the enrollment tuition up front and are reimbursed for the differences at the end of each year. Some districts may owe the center money if the number of their students exceeded beginning-of-the year projections, while a district could be owed money if fewer students than projected had attended.

Rich said the school is trying to reconcile figures for 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 and one issue is determining whether the individual districts were been billed correctly during those years.

“We’ve made headway and have come close to finalization of those issues,” Rich said, adding he is not yet comfortable with accuracy in releasing figures of how much each district is owed.

But the money owed to the districts during those years was used by the center, under director Andrew J. Tommelleo, to subsidize the practical nursing program, which was considered part of the school.

Rich credits former interim director Domenic J. Ionta for successfully negotiating with the Lenape Area Vocational Technical School in Armstrong County to start a new, independent adult practical nursing program at the vo-tech school after the program closed in February.

Financially, the new program will operate autonomously. The program will pay the center a rental fee, Rich explained, and the money accumulated from that will be used to eventually repay the districts for shortfalls from enrollment differences.

The new practical nursing program’s license began March 1, and it has started testing students, Rich said, adding the first class is expected to start in mid-April.

Betty Tillia, director of the previous practical nursing program, will be the administrator of the Lenape-operated program, Rich said.

It was the joint operating committee’s position when it entered the contract with Lenape to put the rent money aside to pay the districts back, he said. “In the end, we will get them paid.”

As to whether the districts are willing to wait for their money, he commented, “My hypothesis is that it’s not an easy pill to swallow, but I’ve talked to all of the superintendents. They’re concerned. They want this institution to succeed but they’re concerned about their finances as well.”

Rich hopes the center will be able to hire a replacement for Williams once the school becomes more fiscally stable.

Meanwhile, the contract with Kosek is working “and she is good,” Rich said. “We’ve set a course to rectify the concerns. We are rising. We know we have to get to the top.”

As for payroll management, forensic auditors from Zelenkofske-Axelrod of Wexford have recommended that from now on, three people should review the time slips at the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center, and the school is taking that advice.

There is more than one person involved now,” Rich said. In addition to Kosek, another Laurel financial employee is reviewing the time sheets, and hourly employees now have signed pay slips, he said.

“No overtime is paid unless authorized by me,” he said. “We have put in some checks and balances by division of labor. No one can just put in an amount they want to be paid biweekly and have that happen.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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