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Pennsylvania to audit Woodland Hills in response to 'unprecedented' concern

Megan Guza
| Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, 3:10 p.m.
Woodland Hills High School on August 23, 2017.
Ben Schmitt | Tribune-Review
Woodland Hills High School on August 23, 2017.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday that his office will audit the troubled Woodland Hills School District a year earlier than scheduled in response to concerns raised by government officials in the district's communities.

At a news conference announcing the audit, one of those leaders, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, called for Woodland Hills Superintendent Alan Johnson to resign.

Johnson declined to comment on Fetterman's call for his resignation.

“They were all shoulder to shoulder on wanting me to do this audit so there could be an independent accountability measure of the Woodland Hill School District,” DePasquale said during the news conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse. “I want to be clear, that type of unanimous support … is unprecedented.”

Woodland Hills has been plagued by controversies over the past year, including altercations between white administrators and police and black students that gained national attention after videos capturing the incidents went public.

DePasquale said that a letter calling for an audit by his office was endorsed by representatives from all 12 municipalities covered by the school district.

The audit will be broad, examining everything from the district's financial stability and hiring practices to school safety and academic performance. It will cover July 2012 to June 2016.

Johnson said the district has been audited twice during his tenure, and neither audit uncovered any major concerns. He said the district is due for another.

“Our books are open, and we have nothing that we want or need to hide,” Johnson said.

While DePasquale's office can only make recommendations, DePasquale said it is not out of the realm of possibility that those recommendations could include suggesting the removal of administrators.

DePasquale said any findings of a criminal nature would be turned over to law enforcement.

Fetterman minced no words during the news conference.

“Superintendent Johnson should take the hint and move on,” Fetterman said.

Fetterman said a cloud remains over the district, which he said can't move forward until the audit is performed and the district has “completely new leadership at the top.”

DePasquale said he has seen footage of altercations between administrators, police and students. Some of the incidents are being investigated by the FBI and the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office. He called the videos shocking.

“When we do our audit, we have to play it down the middle, but I've seen those videos,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale said his audits of schools generally examine school safety on some level, but what he has seen out of Woodland Hills has demanded a higher level of scrutiny.

Fetterman agreed.

“It's not the ‘Shawshank Redemption,'” he said. “This is high school.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @meganguzaTrib. Staff writer Jamie Martines contributed.

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