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New Ken-Arnold faulted for giving superintendents raises without job reviews

Emily Balser
| Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, 9:30 p.m.
New Kensington-Arnold School District Superintendent John Pallone.
Erica Dietz | For the Tribune-Review
New Kensington-Arnold School District Superintendent John Pallone.

A state auditor general's performance audit of the New Kensington-Arnold School District found the district violated the Public School Code and district policy by giving pay raises to its top two administrators for years without the proper performance reviews.

The audit, released Wednesday, was conducted for the period of July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2016.

During that time, the district entered into two contracts with its current Superintendent John Pallone and one contract with its current Assistant Superintended Jon Banko.

The audit gave the district four recommendations:

• Ensure the employment contracts with the superintendent and assistant superintendent comply with the Public School Code. Specifically, ensure that all contracts contain termination, buyout and severance provisions, as well as mutually agreed upon performance standards.

• Conduct annual performance assessments for both the superintendent and assistant superintendent based on mutually agreed upon performance standards.

• Post on the district's website the performance standards for the superintendent and assistant superintendent along with the annual performance results.

• Ensure any adjustments to the superintendent's salary are included as an amendment to the signed employment contract.

The audit found that the contracts didn't include the performance standards, assessments and termination provisions required by the Public School Code. The superintendent's contract was also missing specific compensation terms.

“Failure to include the required provisions in these contracts results in reduced District transparency and a diminished accountability of the Board of School Directors (Board), Superintendent, and Assistant Superintendent to District taxpayers,” the audit says.

The audit goes on to say that the lack of required termination provisions in the contracts leaves the district financially vulnerable to additional and unnecessary costs in the event if their administrator separates employment from the district prior to the completion of the contract.

In addition to not complying with the Public School Code, the district violated its own board policy by not performing annual performance assessments for their administrators.

The district also violated the requirement to post the performance assessments on the district's website for public review.

The audit found that Pallone received salary increases every year, even though the board never conducted the annual performance reviews.

Pallone said a satisfactory assessment was implied when the raise was given, citing the board's lack of time, because they are volunteers, to complete the reviews.

The audit disagreed, saying: “We find it illogical and unreasonable for the district to tie salary increases for the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent to the results of performance evaluations and then not actually perform the performance evaluations.”

Pallone's original contract had an initial salary of $90,000 for the period of Oct. 1, 2012, to March 31, 2013. That contract also outlined a salary of $109,733 effective April 1, 2013. That was the last time a gross salary amount was listed in the contract.

Pallone said his current salary, for the 2017-18 fiscal year, is $119,660. He received a 2.5 percent raise in July.

His contract is up for negotiation in 2021.

Pallone said Banko's starting salary was $109,915 in 2015. His salary for the 2017-18 fiscal year is $113,215. He also received a 2.5 percent raise in July. His contract is up for negotiations in January.

Attempts to reach Banko by phone and email Thursday night were unsuccessful.

During a January 2015 board meeting, the board voted to retroactively increase Pallone's salary by $634 for the 2012-13 school year and increase his salary by $2,538 for the 2014-15 school year.

The board said at that time the adjustments were outlined in the original contract, but the audit found that to be untrue.

Instead, the original contract said any salary adjustments will be in the form of an amendment to the contract, but did not mention when those adjustments would occur.

Pallone said the district would work to improve its contract language going forward.

“As a district, we will be looking at improving our contractual language to be narrowly written so that it becomes less interpretive and more specific,” he said.

He said the district is working on updating its website to be able to post more documents to it.

District Solicitor Anthony Vigilante and school board President Bob Pallone had no comment. The Pallones are brothers.

The full audit is available online at www.paauditor.gov/audit-reports .

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, emilybalser@tribweb.com or via Twitter @emilybalser.

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