Penn Hills School District to get state-assigned financial consultant
A state-assigned financial consultant could begin work this summer to help Penn Hills school officials address the district's money challenges.
Superintendent Nancy Hines said last week that the state Education Department will choose a consultant to extend support, similar to what the state provided in the latter half of the 2013-14 school year.
The move “should not be considered as an attempt at state takeover,” Hines said. “Despite the latest request for takeover from state Rep. Tony DeLuca, once again, (the department) has concluded that such drastic measures are not warranted.”
Casey Smith, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the department is in the process of picking a consultant and expects a summer start date.
The contractor would have an “extensive background in school finance” and would have support from the department's Bureau of Budget and Financial Management, Smith said.
Then, “if the multiyear plan developed for the district does not improve its financial outlook, the district could then be placed in financial recovery but would maintain the right to appeal,” Smith said.
The school district has an estimated $170 million debt that is largely tied to construction of the new high school and elementary school.
The Allegheny County district attorney and state attorney general are investigating the district over its management of taxpayer funds.
Taxes went up last year and could rise again for 2017-18. The school board is expected to vote June 26 on an $84 million proposed budget that would set the property tax rate at 27.557 mills, up 1.2509 mills or 4.76 percent.
Hines said the school board and administrators welcome the additional resources and appreciate the Education Department's “confidence and continued support.”
DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, recently wrote to David Volkman, executive deputy secretary of education, asking that the district be put into the state's financial recovery program and that a fiscal overseer be named to run the school system.
But DeLuca said last week that state officials notified him about the financial consultant, and he sees it as positive for the district.
“I think it will make the residents feel a lot better because they know the state is looking at the affairs of the school district,” he said. The district said in a statement that it's in the Education Department's financial watch program, which offers technical assistance.
Smith, the department spokeswoman, said placing a school district in financial watch is intended to provide assistance necessary to address the existing financial situation and look at potential remedies.