Pa. to audit Harrisburg School District - abc27 WHTM

Pa. to audit Harrisburg School District

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Harrisburg School District's books will be examined by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. However, his goals mirror the goals of the district's current recovery plan by a state-appointed official.

Last January then-Auditor General Jack Wagner released an audit into Harrisburg School District, which revealed multi-million dollar deficits in school years 2005 through 2008.

Wagner's audit uncovered a $517, 818 deficit in cafeteria funds, $1.4 million deficit in athletic department funds, and a $5.2 million loss in reimbursement funds. Wagner's audit also concluded a lack of teacher certifications and more than $400,000 in lost basic education funding due to lack of mandatory instructional hours.

On Monday, Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office will conduct an audit from school years 2009 through 2012. Typically audits on school districts are completed every three years.

DePasquale said he wants to examine the often conducted swap agreements by the district: "Which basically is gambling with taxpayer money," he said.

DePasquale said his office will conduct audits in low-income school districts around the state. On Friday he discussed a similar audit into Steelton-Highspire. He said audits would also be performed in Reading, York, Erie, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh school districts.

"The reason I'm doing this is to highlight what is happening to the education of children in low-income districts all over Pennsylvania," he said.

DePasquale said the audit will focus on academic performance, financial stability, school safety, governance and contracting. He said his office will conduct ways the district could improve these areas as well as improve data collecting and reporting.

Chief Recovery Officer (CRO) Gene Veno sat in the back of the room and was miffed why DePasquale, who was flanked by State Senator Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin County), State Representative Patty Kim (D-Dauphin County) and Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, did not mention the district's Act 141 status.

In December 2012, the state appointed Veno as Chief Recovery Officer to devise a plan to aid the financially distressed district. The school board accepted the recommendations, and to this point the district has avoided a full state takeover or receivership.

"I don't know if they've really read Act 141; that's exactly what we've been doing the past 14 months."

Veno said his 5-year long-term plan addresses on all the areas DePasquale promised to examine, included academics. The CRO said he welcomes any recommendations the Auditor General's Office may have to offer, but he feels they could be dated given his team has consistently been making recovery plan progress past the 2012 school year.

"We're further ahead than that," he said. "I'd like to meet Mr. DePasquale someday; I've never heard from him. This could be a great opportunity to speak with him."

Veno said he would've liked to have seen Harrisburg School Superintendent Dr. Sybil Knight-Burney invited to the press conference. She was not present.

Harrisburg School Board President Jennifer Smallwood said she is not concerned about DePasquale conducting an audit, stating, "That's his job." Smallwood said the school board has been compliant during the recovery process.

"Like any other school distinct, we have issues and we are addressing them, and we are being quite open about what we're doing," she said.

Currently, Veno's recovery plan is under revision until the board decides how to spend the $11 million surplus that was previously miscalculated as a $4.5 million deficit. One the table is reinstated full-day kindergarten, repaying staff wages back by half, and no property tax increases.

Veno said he would like to see DePasquale put an emphasis on city property tax collection. He said the delinquency is a $15 million issue that could help the district.

DePasquale did not provide a timeline of action but hoped it would be conducted by the end of this year. He would not say how Act 141 would be impacted by an audit until it was completed. As to the progress already made, DePasquale said that's why his independent office will examine the books.

"Hopefully they've cleaned all that up," he said. "We're going to find out."

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