Auditor General DePasquale Says Student Education in ‘Extreme Dysfunction’ in Susquehanna Township School District

Susquehanna Township School District Sued for 6 Million

Calls for immediate action by board and administration to get back to mission of education.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said that without greatly improved board and administration cooperation, teamwork and civility at the Susquehanna Township School District in Dauphin County, the education of the district’s students is at tremendous risk.

“The extreme dysfunction of the board and administrators of Susquehanna Township School District set a horrible example for the students and community,” DePasquale said in announcing the results of the latest audit of the district.  “Student academic success should be job one in this district – not the nearly never-ending bickering among board members and administrators.”

In all, auditors reported four findings, primarily involving lack of governance. To correct the district’s problems and re-focus on the mission of student education, auditors offered 38 recommendations.

“What was once a high-performing school district is no longer,” DePasquale said. “The district’s high school is now performing at ‘D’ level and must improve. Everything in this district should be about the kids.”

Of the audit findings, the one regarding ineffective district governance graphically outlines a district in turmoil.  Auditor’s review of the district’s practices found a lack of collaboration and team work between the board and the former superintendent, as well as among members of the board.

“To illustrate this turmoil, over a six-month period beginning in November 2013 there were at least four cases of litigation between the board as a whole, individual board members and the former superintendent,” DePasquale said. “What’s more, this litigious behavior has caused the district’s legal costs to soar to at least $200,000 for the 2013-14 school year, which is over 160 percent more than the district paid for legal services last year, and more than the district spent on summer school in 2012-2013.”

The audit also noted that the district’s turmoil contributed to its failure to properly contract and monitor service providers.  Specifically, the district failed to establish a formal contract with The American Reading Company, which the district paid more than $1.7 million over a four-year period; hired a part-time special education consultant at a rate of $500 per day without a contract; and obtained legal services without proper letters of engagement.

The lack of collaboration between the board and the administration resulted in a variety of other consequences, including:

  • board agreement in limiting  the activities  of the board through requirements in the former superintendent’s contract;
  • blurring the lines between the role of the administration and the board;
  • reducing transparency by creating a shifting public meeting schedule and agenda;
  • decreasing accountability by preventing the board and the administration from working together to develop strong policies and procedures;
  • failing to properly establish and monitor pilot programs, including the district’s School of Arts, School of Engineering, School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Everyday Math;
  • increasing turnover in key administrative positions; and
  • preventing the district from focusing on improving academic performance of students.

“What is particularly alarming is that Susquehanna Township School District board and administrators created these problems themselves,” DePasquale said.  “For the sake of the students and the taxpayers it is time for the board and the administration to put aside their differences and get back to educating students.”

To correct the district’s problems, auditors offered recommendations on working as a united and professional team; following and updating board policies; defining and maintaining the roles of the administration and the board in staff hiring; and improving oversight of pilot programs.

The audit released today includes an extension of the district’s regular audit that DePasquale announced in September 2013 to review complaints regarding administration and board activities.

As part of the Department of Auditor General’s review of the district’s governance practices interviews were conducted with eight of nine sitting board members during November and December 2013; the now former superintendent in March 2014; and the now former business manager in February 2014.

The audit also found that the district:

  • employed two teachers with lapsed certificates, and a speech and language impaired teacher who had an emergency certificate for another district, but did not hold a valid certificate for Susquehanna Township School District; and
  • improperly reported wages of employees to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System, including $20,000 in wages in lieu of medical benefits for a former superintendent.

A copy of the Susquehanna Township School District audit report is available at http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/Reports/School/sch69418SusquehannaTownshipSchoolDistrict062614.pdf

 

(SOURCE: PA Auditor General’s Office)