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Audit: West York’s separation agreement with former HS principal will cost taxpayers $194,981

HARRISBURG -- Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released the findings of a performance audit of the West York School District spurred by the costly separation agreement for a former principal at the high school.

The audit was launched after reports surfaced that the former principal was told to stop coming to work and was permitted to use 266 days of leave until she qualifies for retirement next March.

The separation package will cost taxpayers $194,981, Depasquale said in a press release announcing the findings.

"We did the math," he said. "That stunning total is $167,898 more than it would have cost taxpayers if the principal had resigned or retired when they stopped reporting to school. This is taxpayer money that could pay for a least two teachers and a whole lot of books."

The ex-principal was directed to stop coming to work effective Feb. 20, 2018, the audit found. Through the use of accumulated leave, she will remain on the district's payroll until one day after becoming eligible to retire.

The separation agreement was approved by the West York School Board during a public meeting, but the Board did not calculate or disclose the costs involved, Despasquale's office found.

The events that led to the separation were sealed by a confidentiality clause.

"I am concerned that the public was not made aware of the financial impacts before the school board voted to approve it," Depasquale said in his announcement. "While the board's action may have met the letter of the Sunshine Act, it didn't meet the spirit of the law.

"Taxpayers deserve greater transparency when it comes to these types of big decisions."

The audit report recommends that:

  • The school district should calculate the total cost of any separation agreement and ensure the school board is aware of the total cost before voting to approve the agreement
  • To improve accountability and transparency, the school board should publicly disclose all costs associated with any future employee separation agreements

The audit also found that the school district's Unlawful Harassment Policy, which prohibits sexual and other types of harassment, has not been updated in nine years -- even though other professional conduct policies had been adopted or revised during that time span.

The district also did not provide employee training on harassment prevention at any time during the audit period, and did not have any training scheduled for the current school year.

"It is essential for school districts to have current harassment policies and offer training," Depasquale said in the announcement. "I am glad the district agreed that it's time to review their own policy and look into offering training. As I announced just last week, my office is asking all Pennsylvania school districts to share their sexual harassment policies with us, because it is an issue that can impact taxpayers."

The West York School District released the following statement after receiving the results of Depasquale's audit.

The West York Area School District (“School District”) has received a copy of the Auditor General’s audit findings.  
 
The School District has reviewed the findings and was particularly pleased with the Auditor General’s official confirmation that the School District fully complied with the legal requirements of the Public School Code and the Sunshine Act when it approved the “Agreement and General Release” with Dr. Janet May.  When the Auditor General announced this audit on April 28, 2018, he stressed, “it is important to ensure that any administrative changes are conducted as appropriately under the Public School Code.”  The School District is gratified that the audit process revealed what it already knew – that the District’s personnel actions complied with the Public School Code.
 
Additionally, the Auditor General pointed out to the School District a Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) withholding error involving three former employees.  The School District appreciates the Auditor General bringing this to our attention during the audit, which allowed the District to correct the error immediately.  The District has taken the necessary steps to ensure this PSERS situation does not occur again.
 
Finally, while the School District’s current sexual-harassment policy complies with existing state and federal law, the Auditor General recommended the School District review it for possible updates.  In March of 2018, prior to the announcement and commencement of this audit, the School District had already begun discussion with the Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) about engaging their services to review all existing School District policies for possible updates.  Further, the School District entered into a policy review contract for this service with PSBA prior to the release of the audit findings.  The School District will give priority attention to the Auditor General’s recommendation regarding this specific policy so that we may continue to prevent sexual harassment within our schools and programs.
 
The School District invites taxpayers and residents to attend the School Board’s work sessions, voting meetings, and committee meetings, which are all open to the public.  Dates, times, and locations of all of those public meetings can be found on the School District website at https://www.wyasd.k12.pa.us/board.

The performance audit for the West York Area School District is available here. All school district performance audits are posted at PaAuditor.gov.