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Technology taken out of check-writing in BWSD

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Get that pen ready. The Baldwin-Whitehall School District will require its business manager to sign as many as 600 checks a month, in an effort to watch the district's finances more closely.

Some school board members question why the move away from electronic signatures is needed, and residents say the step is a move backward in a district focused on implementing technology.

Still, “I think it's not only a great safeguard but I also think it puts you closer to where the money is going, what it's going for,” said board member Martin Michael Schmotzer, who made a motion on Feb. 12 to have Baldwin-Whitehall Business Manager Mark Cherpak sign all checks on accounts payable, or money the district owes by to suppliers.

Board members approved requiring the signatures in a 5-4 vote, with Tracy Macek, David Solenday, Karen Brown and board President Larry Pantuso dissenting. The change took effect last week.

Cherpak will not be required to sign payroll checks, Schmotzer said.

Schmotzer said having a set of eyes on each check could allow district officials to catch problems. He cited a security services contract that was not renewed for eight years, while checks continued to be written.

On average, 500 to 600 checks are written for accounts payable each month, Cherpak said. Of those, about 15 to 20 percent are for $5,000 or more.

The business manager estimated it will take six to eight hours a month to hand-sign the checks. Pantuso and the board secretary still can put their electronic signatures on checks.

Pantuso said he doesn't see the point of having a personal signature on each check.

At the board's agenda-setting meeting, Pantuso said if the board president had to sign each check, then the board should look for a new president because he isn't willing to take on that task.

“You could give me 1,000 pieces of paper and if I know I've got to sign them, I'm going to fly right through them,” Pantuso said.

Payments for purchases go through two levels of approval: one by an immediate supervisor or secretary of the Baldwin-Whitehall employee making the purchase, and then by Cherpak, the business manager said.

Board members who supported Schmotzer's motion said having live signatures will be one more check to ensure the district's funds are in the right place.

“I've heard a lot of folks talking about holding us more accountable and transparent. I think that's just a step toward that,” board member Elliot Rambo said.

Some residents expressed frustration by the board's vote. District leaders earlier in the evening discussed new ways to implement technology in classrooms.

“In the very next breath, you turn around and you tell this guy that he has to write all of his checks by hand because you don't trust technology,” Whitehall resident Jane Casciato said. “You guys vote electronically and yet have to make him sit there.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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