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Pennsylvania Department of Education puts Wilkinsburg, Aliquippa school districts on financial watch list

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 3:03 p.m.

Troubled finances have led the state Department of Education to put the Wilkinsburg and Aliquippa school districts on a financial watch list.

Being on the list enables the department to offer school districts technical assistance to correct their financial problems, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the state agency.

The districts don't have to accept the help, Eller said.

The system is set up to prevent districts from being placed in financial recovery, which can force them into receivership if they don't make progress with state-appointed chief recovery officers after up to a year, he said.

Reasons the department placed Wilkinsburg on the watch list included the district's seeking permission from Allegheny County Court in January to borrow $3 million to pay its bills and the fact that its 2010-11 tax burden on property owners is the second-highest among 500 school districts in the state, according to a letter on Friday to school board President Karen Payne.

The district saved $500,000 by closing Johnston Elementary School last summer. In the past three years, it has cut 87 jobs, leaving 246 employees, saving about $2.8 million.

Its 2012-13 budget is $27.4 million.

“We are in much better shape than people think that we are,” acting Superintendent Archie Perrin Jr. said.

Aliquippa went on the watch list because its outstanding debt was 228 percent of expenditures at the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year and it had a projected $725,000 shortfall in June, according to the state's letter to school board President Edward Palombo.

“We knew this was coming,” said Superintendent David Wytiaz, who said the district welcomed the state's technical assistance.

There is little economic development in Aliquippa, a former mill town that has been in financial distress under Act 47 since 1987.

The school district's 2012-13 budget is $20.5 million.

To improve its finances, the district has furloughed employees, raised taxes and cut programs, he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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