Pa. Auditor General says lack of school district’s transparency costly to taxpayers

MANHEIM TOWNSHIP, LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Auditor General announced a school district in Lancaster County broke state law, after terminating the former superintendent's contract last year.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his audit revelead Manheim Township School District violated the Public School Code.

He said the district did not publicly vote on the separation agreement with its former superintendent.

DePasquale said, "This is unacceptable behavior by a school board, and it's important that this never happens again."

The auditor general said he was receiving a number of complaints from people who were concerned about the school district's lack of transparency.

The audit was originally scheduled for later this year, but he decided to move up that date to October 2016,

The termination of the contract came at a cost of $358,000.

The auditor general said, "My concern is during this time period, you were having tax increases that you could argue that at least in part help paid for this separation agreement for this superintendent that wasn't publicly disclosed."

DePasquale said district management claimed the separation agreement was in the best interest of the district.

He said, "If you can't defend it in public, how are we to believe that it was actually in the best interest of the district?"

Here is the full response from the school district:

The Pennsylvania Department of Auditor General has completed a Performance Audit of Manheim Township School District, evaluating the District on best practices in areas of financial stability, governance and school safety, and the District’s compliance with relevant state laws. The full audit report is posted online and can be found HYPERLINK "http://www.paauditor.gov/audit-reports" here.

The comprehensive full performance audit began in October 2016, and involved the review of district procedures from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016.  A performance audit focuses on program effectiveness and compliance with best practices, laws, regulations, and guidelines.  It also provides an objective analysis of information to help district management improve program operations and reduce costs.  A full performance audit reviews areas that may include, but are not limited to:

Financial position/stability,

School safety,

Governance,

Academic performance,

Contract management and monitoring,

Administrator contract buyouts,

Transportation subsidies, contracts, and bus driver qualifications,

Hiring practices,

Teacher and administrator certification,

Student transportation data collection and reporting,

Enrollment and attendance data collection and reporting, and

Sunshine Act and Ethics Act compliance.

The final report of the District’s performance audit found that Manheim Township School District has applied best practices in all areas listed above, and the district has complied with all state requirements, except in the area of administrator contract buyouts.

“We are pleased to announce, and happy to report to our community, that the Manheim Township School District has demonstrated financial stability, applied best practices, and are in compliance with state requirements according to the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office.  Our staff worked closely with the auditors over the last several months as they reviewed the district’s daily operations and procedures, school safety, budget management, and overall financial stability,” stated Superintendent Dr. Robin Felty.

“Given that school safety remains a top priority for the District, we are very pleased with the continued findings during the safety review component of the audit. The District’s visitation policies, locked doors and restricted access procedures, and emergency plan promote student safety. With ongoing attention to school safety nationwide, the District continues to enforce safety practices in all schools, particularly relating to school access procedures and monitoring of security systems.”

“This has been a long, but successful road for this District and the current School Board,” stated MT School Board President, Mark Anderson.  “Our community has rallied together to show positive support for the Board and School District that, as this final full performance audit shows, had unwarranted negative reporting by local media. The District Administration worked closely with the PA Auditor Generals Office, providing the information that was needed to show best practices and to conduct the full audit.  I am proud of how thoroughly this District continues to operate in the best interest of Manheim Township students.”

According to the audit, the only area that the district demonstrated lack of compliance was with administrator contract buyouts.  Manheim Township School District failed to publicly post the settlement agreement of a former superintendent who submitted a resignation before the superintendent’s contract end date.  The audit finds that the settlement agreement should have been posted to a School Board Agenda since it was voted on during a public School Board Meeting. The district agrees with the Auditor General’s report that the separation agreement should have been publicly posted on the Board Agenda.  However, school board directors and administrators who were working in the District Office at the time were following legal recommendations pertaining to Board procedures and were unaware that the actual separation agreement needed to be posted on the Board agenda.

In the past year, the Board of School Directors has made significant changes and improvements to the public operations of the School Board, including but not limited to:

The physical set-up of the Boardroom was redesigned to be more conducive for audience members to see the School Board directors and view presentations clearly.

“Community Conversations with the School Board” events were held monthly as community drop-in sessions at our District Office on a designated Saturday from 10:00 am-12:00 pm. These sessions are informal, informational, and conversational in nature to provide our community the opportunity to meet with members of the School Board and discuss important topics related to our schools.  The drop-ins are facilitated on the Saturday morning between the School Board Work Session and the School Board Meetings (typically the second Saturday of the month). The “Community Conversations with the School Board” events will continue to occur during the 2017-2018 school year.

The Board of School Directors revised Policy #005-Meetings to improve the structure of the School Board agenda. In order to provide a more consistent and concise agenda for the public to follow, changes were made regarding how an item is pulled and openly discussed.

As required, the Manheim Township School District receives an independent annual audit of the financial records each year. For at least the past twenty years, the district has continually received clean audit reports from the local independent auditors. In addition, the Auditor General conducted a Limited Procedures Engagement audit in 2015 and found the District to be in strong financial position through a review of its internal controls, budgeting practices, and compliance with the Right to Know law and the Sunshine Act.

 

One of DePasquale's recommendations is that all contracts and agreements are approved at a public meeting.

He plans to take his audit and recommendations for the school district to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.