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Pa. state auditor criticizes Pittsburgh Public Schools decisions

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Teachers and principals working without credentials, and expenses from the resignation of two administrators cost Pittsburgh Public Schools more than $740,000, a state audit found.

Ten principals and 117 teachers worked with expired provisional certificates, resulting in the forfeiture of $390,337 in state money over five years, Auditor General Jack Wagner said in the Jan. 2 audit made public on Tuesday.

Wagner, who leaves office Jan. 15, recommended the district establish a process to ensure that teachers and principals obtain permanent certificates before temporary or provisional ones expire.

“Some of these cases involve varying interpretations of certification guidelines,” said Ira Weiss, the district's solicitor. He said his office would work with human resource representatives to resolve any disputes about credentials needed for a job.

Although he did not name them, Wagner criticized the $140,000 buyout of Christopher Berdnik, former chief financial officer, and a consultancy that paid former Deputy Superintendent Lynn Spampinato $213,333.

The report said Berdnik's settlement “was not in the best interest of taxpayers.” Berdnik worked for the district from 1994 to 2010, when he resigned. He is chief financial officer for the Centennial School District in Bucks County. He could not be reached for comment.

“In these very difficult economic times, both nationally and throughout Pennsylvania, it is incumbent upon school boards to be good stewards of the taxpayer money entrusted to them,” the audit said. “The district's board disregarded this responsibility when it spent limited taxpayer resources on this matter.”

Weiss defended the severance payment, saying, “Public employers, including school districts, have to weigh a lot of factors when determining how best to resolve employment matters. This sort of after-the-fact critiquing of decisions is much easier than making decisions themselves.”

Spampinato, who became a school turnaround specialist for Camden, N.J.-based Catapult Learning, was deputy superintendent in Pittsburgh from November 2005 to November 2006, when the school board extended her a contract as a consultant.

That consultancy lacked “clearly defined work requirements” and produced only a 32-page paper on vocational education, Wagner found.

“Based on this evidence,” the audit said, “it appears the district did not receive much in exchange for its $213,333.”

Joel Sansone, a Downtown attorney for Spampinato, said his client gave considerable advice to district leaders in addition to her report and accused Wagner of “armchair quarterbacking.”

“The auditor general's report does not take into account the significant turmoil, which troubled the district at that time,” Sansone said. “Dr. Spampinato was part of the solution, not the problem.”

Weiss dismissed Wagner's criticism that the district did not divulge the reason for the administrators' resignations, saying personnel issues are confidential.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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