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October 21, 2013

New Castle Schools: District releases names in tuition probe

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle school district has released the names of employees who were the subject of a state audit finding.

The three staff members — 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 — are the parents of children who lived outside the district but attended New Castle schools without paying tuition over a period of four years.

The tuition matter was raised by the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office in a final report of an audit covering Feb. 2, 2010, through Sept. 12, 2012.

The audit also included the district’s financial records for two additional years regarding the tuition matter, and it showed there had been seven non-resident children of district employees during that four-year time period for whom tuition had not been paid.

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

As a result, the district must repay the state $110,664 for subsidy it had received for those students over the four-year period.

The state audit report, which was made public, did not include the names of the students or their parents.

Superintendent John J. Sarandrea said the employees are to pay the district the tuition owed and that an agreement between the two sides is in the process of being signed and finalized.

“The district is pursuing all rights and remedies for restitution,” he said in a prepared statement issued this week.

The statement also said the district has drafted a corrective action plan for the auditor general’s performance audit report, specifically regarding internal control weaknesses and violation of board policy that resulted in the loss of parent-paid tuition.

That action plan has not yet been approved by the school board.

The district has created the position of attendance officer, which will afford it the ability to investigate reported residency issues as well as truancy problems in kindergarten through 12th grades.

The board interviewed nine of 24 applicants and on Wednesday hired Richard Eagle Jr. of Harmony for the position. He will be paid $30,000 annually but no benefits.

As for sanctions imposed on the three employees, Sarandrea declined comment, saying all matters between the employer and employee remain confidential.

The New Castle News had filed an open records request with the district for the names of the parents, which district officials denied. The newspaper then appealed to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

A state appeals officer issued a determination last month, requiring the district to provide the employees’ names, but not their addresses or the students’ identities.

The district and the parents had 30 days to either appeal the determination to the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas or the district had to comply with it. None of the parties filed appeals and the 30-day window expired Tuesday.

DeMase, contacted Wednesday, deferred comment to her attorney, Louis Perrotta.

He said, “I’m not inclined to make any comment on the handling of the matter by the school district because of the underlying issues that are involved.”

He added his client chose not to pursue an appeal of the office of open records determination.

Attempts to reach Kollar and Glies have been unsuccessful.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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