New Castle News

August 23, 2013

New Castle Schools: District conducts hearings on tuition issue

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Parents of out-of-district students who attended city schools without paying tuition are having hearings this week.

New Castle Area School District superintendent John Sarandrea said Monday that the proceedings, called Loudermil hearings, are the employees’ due-process hearings and are held in private by the school board.

The parents who were indicated in a state Auditor General’s audit are employees of the school district. The district has refused to make their identities public.

Sarandrea said Monday that the district, following the hearings, will send statements of charges or what the board and its attorneys decide is fair and applicable to the parents who are deemed to be in violation.

Regarding any disciplinary measures they would have to face, Sarandrea commented, “They have union rights, too.”

That means the employees as members of a bargaining unit would be able to file grievances through the union, Sarandrea said.

The state audit released in June showed that seven non-resident students attended district schools but did not pay tuition over the course of four school years. The audit found the matter to have violated both the state Public School Code and the district’s own board policy.

As a result of the audit finding, the district must reimburse the state $110,664 that it had received as a state subsidy based on that number of non-paying out-of-district students attending a district during that time span.

The audit covered the period from Feb. 2, 2010, through Sept. 12, 2012. However, the auditors also looked at other school years regarding the noncompliance in state subsidies and reimbursements and included the years 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 in its finding.

The report showed that at different times during those cited school years, seven children of district employees were actually enrolled as resident students when, in fact, they were not, according to a review of addresses on payroll records.

The auditors found that those students’ registration forms on file with the district showed their homes were within district boundaries.

Five of the forms showed the students lived in the district with their parents, while two students’ forms showed they lived with their grandparents.

The auditor general’s office had  provided the district a list of the parents and students in question before the audit was finalized, and the district has delayed its response to a request for information, asking for the document.

The New Castle News also had submitted a request for information, asking for the names. Based on advice from the district’s special counsel in Pittsburgh, the district denied that request.

The News has filed an appeal to the denial with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, and that is pending.

Since the auditor findings were released, rumors have circulated about the identities of the parents involved, but no concrete evidence of those has been provided by the district.

Sarandrea acknowledged there could be other families that are not included as part of the audit, and that it is his intent to investigate any and all claims it receives of any other parents.

A new district policy adopted this week, however, dictates that all complaints must be signed and may not be anonymous.

Meanwhile, the district could be subject to future findings by the auditor general if other names come to light during future audits of other years.

But the school board, meanwhile, is taking steps to close off the possibility of out-of-district students attending city schools without paying tuition.

At its regular meeting earlier this month, the board voted unanimously to impose more stringent guidelines in its enrollment policy.

The change stipulates that only the administrators at each school can register students and sign off on them, Sarandrea explained. Previously, the secretaries in the school system would accept registrations when the principals were too busy, he said.

“The flaw has not been in the policy,” Sarandrea said, “The flaw was in the way it was being delivered. Secretaries were enrolling students and not investigating.”