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Greensburg Salem administrator salaries under investigation

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 7:16 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem School District board members Dr. Eileen Amato (left), superintendent, Ron Mellinger Jr. (top middle), president, and John Scales (right), solicitor, participate in a school board meeting in Greensburg on August 14, 2013.

The agency overseeing the state's public school pension fund has begun a probe of findings that the base salaries of six administrators in the Greensburg Salem School District were inflated with unused sick days or health care benefits to bump up their retirement checks.

Evelyn Tatkovski, spokesman for the Public School Employees' Retirement System, confirmed Wednesday the agency has begun a review of whether accurate earnings were reported for the administrators.

The agency's move stems from a highly critical audit of the school district by the state Auditor General's Office.

District officials had declined to release the administrators' names for two days.

Because the Tribune-Review filed a Right to Know request on Wednesday, directors and administrators met behind closed doors and agreed to release the identities of the administrators, Superintendent Eileen Amato said.

The names will be revealed once three administrators, who did not know their retirement checks were inflated, are notified, Amato said. She anticipated the releasing of the names would occur on Thursday.

The auditor general had not released names. Susan Woods, spokeswoman for the auditor general's office, said her office does not name individuals involved in audits.

Melissa Melewsky, an attorney for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said that without question, the school district should reveal the administrators' names because taxpayers' money is involved.

Some school directors reached Wednesday before their private meeting flatly refused to release the names, while others said they did not have a complete list available.

The audit alleged senior administrators ordered district employees to report $140,592 in ineligible earnings for some administrators to the retirement agency, even though the staff told them it was against regulations.

Former Superintendent Tom Yarabinetz accounted for $74,892 of the total, including $58,392 in health care compensation and $6,500 in unused sick days added to his base salary. The earning totals are used to calculate retirement benefits.

“No one ever came to me and said it wasn't qualified. I was never made aware of it,” he said.

Tatkovski said adjustments will be made to the administrators' pensions if it's found those payments were based on incorrect earnings figures.

A copy of the auditor general's report was forwarded to Gov. Tom Corbett, the state department of education and others.

Timothy Eller, education department spokesman, said the agency will review the audit “to determine if the department needs to take any action.”

Barry Ciccocioppo, a spokesman for the auditor general's office, could not say immediately how often questions arise over retirement compensation, but he said the issue does come up in school district audits.

In Greensburg Salem's case, auditors were tipped to the inflated reported earnings during a normal review of district records, Woods said.

Auditors had not looked at the district's retirement accounts for the last few years, school administrators said during Wednesday's regular board meeting.

The audit stated the errors occurred between 2005 and 2011 while Yarabinetz was superintendent, a position he held from 1997 to 2011.

Two of the six retiring administrators accounted for $21,000 each in ineligible earnings that were reported for unused sick days, according to the report. Another administrator was credited with $14,500 for sick days, while two others combined for $9,000 in sick days.

A seventh administrator had $215 forwarded by error.

The district has added financial controls to ensure there are no reporting problems to the state retirement board, according to board members.

When Yarabinetz retired in 2011, district officials listed his salary as $173,452 — more than Pennsylvania's governor earned.

Though school directors were allowed to offer Yarabinetz payment for the value of his health care coverage as compensation, auditors questioned the use of taxpayer money for that purpose.

In a related matter, Yarabinetz and Tom Shipley, former director of secondary education, received at least a combined $43,804 for unused vacation days and other retirement benefits, according to the audit, which refers to both men by their job titles.

“The board failed to act in a prudent manner when it authorized the additional excessive terms placed on it by the two retiring administrators,” the auditors stated.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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