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July 23, 2013

New Castle Schools: District won’t release names in tuition issue

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle Area School District has hired a Pittsburgh law firm for legal expertise regarding a recent audit finding.

Based upon the advice of Andrews & Price LLC, Superintendent John Sarandrea wrote a letter to the New Castle News denying the newspaper’s request for the names of district employees whose children allegedly attended city schools but were not district residents.

The letter was dated July 16 and received by The News in the mail yesterday.

The final audit report of the state Auditor General’s office issued in June showed that seven non-resident students attended district schools but did not pay tuition over the course of four years.

The names of the district employees were not included in the audit finding, which criticized the district for failing to collect tuition for those students.

The district, however, received $110,664 worth of subsidy for those students who had been counted as district residents, and it has to pay that money back to the state.

The audit covered Feb. 2, 2010, through Sept. 12, 2012.

“Pursuant to the state’s Right to Know Law, the records requested do not exist and/or the school district is not required to create a record nor to answer questions,” Sarandrea wrote in refusing to provide the employees’ names.

His letter added that the request also is denied because any such records are an agency relating to a non-criminal investigation.

In response to the denial, The News has contacted the state Office of Open Records for legal clarification.

LEGAL ADVICE

Sarandrea said yesterday that the Andrews & Price firm was hired after the district’s solicitor, Charles Sapienza, recused himself from representing the district in the audit matter because of a conflict of interest.

An attempt to reach Sapienza yesterday afternoon was unsuccessful.

Sarandrea said the circumstances were discussed in an executive session.

“The first item of business that we gave them was to find out what they recommended regarding the (New Castle News) right-to-know request,” he said.

The law firm also will be addressing the board about its options and potential actions regarding the audit finding.

Andrews & Price will be used for special counsel as needed, Sarandrea said, “when we need a quick action and interpretation and the board would like to use them.”

The district’s school board will convene for a special public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday. At that time, Andrews & Price attorneys plan to meet in executive session with the board to discuss the tuition finding issue, Sarandrea said.

“We’re going to be discussing names and what they owed, and which employees registered them, and so forth. All of those issues are protected by the Sunshine Act,” Sarandrea said.

He expects that shortly thereafter, the attorneys will come out with a recommendation for the district to follow.

At Monday’s meeting, the board also will be expected to vote on the law firm’s pay, which will be $130 per hour with no retainer, Sarandrea said.

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