New Castle News

September 23, 2013

New Castle won’t appeal open records ruling

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The New Castle school board won’t appeal a ruling from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

The ruling from late last week states the district must release the names of employees who lived outside of the district but whose children attended New Castle schools without paying required tuition.

As a result of the office’s determination, the district is required to provide the names to the New Castle News within 30 days or file an appeal in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

Superintendent John Sarandrea said Friday he had met with the school board in executive session following an expulsion hearing Tuesday night and members advised him they do not wish to appeal.

As of late Friday afternoon, the employees’ names had not been provided to The News.

Sarandrea said he has yet to be advised by the employees whether they intend to appeal.

“I don’t know what decision the employees are going to make,” he said, “but by order of the office of open records, I was required to let them know what the (board’s) decision was.”

Sarandrea said he had sent emails to those employees, notifying them of the district’s decision, and copied the letters to the office of open records.

The district conducted hearings for the employees, Sarandrea had said previously, adding the district was pursuing payment of the tuition.

According to Allan Joseph, he and the other board members did not participate in the hearings. He said Sarandrea represented the district at the hearings.

“We’re waiting for agreements to be signed,” Sarandrea said Friday, “then once they are signed by the employees, the matter will be coming to a close.”

He said he intends to issue a news release regarding the matter, “as soon as I have everything in writing regarding the outcome of the investigation.”

Sarandrea said that would probably be next week.

Attempts to reach most of the other board members Friday were unsuccessful. The exception was Anna Pascarella, who refused to answer questions or comment on the issue.

She said the matter had been discussed at length in executive session, but she does not believe in publicly discussing matters that go on inside executive sessions.

The employees at issue were the subject of a finding in a final audit report by the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office.

The audit not showed seven nonresident children of district employees had attended New Castle schools over the course of four years without payment of required tuition.

The audit covered Feb. 2, 2010, through Sept. 12, 2012, but the auditors examined records for two additional years. The names were not included in the audit.

As a result of the district’s failure to collect tuition, the auditors noted, it will have to repay $110,664 in state subsidy for that period.

The district hired Andrews and Price of Pittsburgh for legal services after district solicitor Charles Sapienza recused himself, citing a conflict of interest. Andrews and Price is being paid $130 per hour.

The New Castle News had sent a request for information to the district seeking the employees’ names but the district refused to provide them. The News then appealed to the state open records office.