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September 23, 2013

Vo-tech board to proceed with forensic audit

NEW CASTLE — The Lawrence County Career and Technical Center’s joint operating committee is going to proceed with a forensic audit.

The board voted 8-3 Thursday to advertise for bids for an auditor to examine the vo-tech school’s financial records.

Anna Pascarella, one of the New Castle school district’s members on the committee, made a motion to have the in-depth audit conducted. She said she wants to know what happened to a fund balance the practical nursing program had a few years back, and she wants to know the exact amounts the school districts are owed as reimbursements for enrollment differences.

The center is in debt to its member school districts because it had been using their overpayments for enrollment projections to support the adult practical nursing center budget instead of returning them.

The committee members, not happy with the center owing the member districts money — $450,572 for 2010-11 alone — decided earlier this year to end the practical nursing program.

It will be finished in February when the last of the already enrolled students graduate.

Voting against the forensic audit were Alan Carlson, Laurel’s member; Scott Singer, Mohawk’s member; and James McFarland, Neshannock’s member. Mark Kirkwood, another of New Castle’s representatives, was absent.

The New Castle school district has four members on the vo-tech school’s board, Ellwood City has two and the other six districts in Lawrence County each have one.

“We have concerns regarding practical nursing program,” Pascarella said Friday about why she had requested the forensic audit.

“It was very clear to a number of us that something needs to happen,” she said. “We need experts in there to look at the years when the program had a fund balance and what happened with that money and where it was spent, and to see how we got to this point of so much owed to the districts.”

Pascarella said she had initiated the forensic audit idea in May.

“I think we need to bring auditors in here and look at the expenses.

“If you’re a school that’s not owed much money, you might be able to brush it off, but we are owed a nice chunk,” she said of New Castle.

The 2010-11 debt to New Castle was $170,698. Definite figures have been unavailable for the 2011-12 or 2012-13 school years.

Pascarella said board member David DiGiammarino of New Castle has suggested the committee look at the last year there was a fund balance, then look at financial records going forward.

Member Leroy Cortez, one of Ellwood City’s representatives, said he, too, favors a forensic investigation.

“I made the statement before we took the vote that I thought this was necessary so we could put in safeguards, policy changes and methods, just to make sure it never happens again,” he said.

“The school is in financial straits right now,” continued Cortez, who has been on the committee eight years. “We have a vested interest in getting this thing right.”

Even though money is owed to the member districts, the center needs to make changes and update its courses for 21st century jobs, Cortez said.

“Yeah, we’d like to have the money back, but if we can get the school to where it’s operating and providing trade education for students of Lawrence County, then we’ve done the right thing,” he said. “Right now, we are in a position where it’s not affordable. The school’s not supposed to be operating in a position where it owes the home districts money.”

Problems with the budget and the practical nursing program brought about the resignation of the school’s director, Andrew Tommelleo, in June.

Since then, the center has been operating under acting director Dom Ionta, a retired Union school district superintendent.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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