Board responds, carefully, to pension spiking scandal
The former Greensburg Salem administrators who were allegedly responsible for spiking six former employees' pensions should be prosecuted, a Salem man told the school board.
“I think they should be punished to the full extent of the law ... no matter what the cost is,” Tom Ridella said during the school board meeting this week.
“It's the principle,” he added.
Administrators and directors carefully responded to Ridella's statements and others made by Salem resident Jim Barbe. Officials cited legal issues for limiting their remarks.
In August, the auditor general's office determined six former administrators had nearly $141,000 in ineligible income considered as part of their pension payments.
The current district administration told auditors that previous “senior administrators” forcibly ordered “subordinates to report the additional benefit payments as qualified earnings,” even though the subordinates told them that doing so was against state pension regulations, according to the audit.
District Superintendent Eileen Amato has said she will name the administrators who allegedly ordered the employees to include the ineligible income when she is legally allowed.
Auditors examined about 30,000 “pieces of paper” during their yearlong investigation, she said.
Three former administrators have appealed adjustments made to their pension payments by the state Public School Employees' Retirement System, agency spokeswoman Evelyn Tatkovski said. The three — former superintendent Tom Yarabinetz, business manager Tom Ferraro and middle school principal Lee Kirchner — received a combined $97,074 in overpayments through direct rollovers and in annuities, Tatkovski said.
Her agency has forwarded information about the adjustments to the state Education Department and the auditor general, the spokeswoman said.
Some people in the current administration knew about problems with the pension accounts before the audit, business manager James Meyer said at the meeting. He declined to elaborate.
Meyer and solicitor John Scales cautioned directors to choose their words carefully because investigations are under way by the pension agency and Education Department, and there may be future legal proceedings.
When Barbe asked whether directors believed the audit, Scales said, “It's too premature to ask that.”
The district has added measures to stop the spiking from happening again, board President Ron Mellinger said.
Everything that happened with the pensions will be made public eventually, he added.
School directors bear responsibility for the misuse of taxpayer money and other problems, Barbe said.
He pointed to a section of the audit in which the current administration said “the previous administration used the practice of presenting partial information to the board and public (such as changes in agreements or percentages rather than dollar amounts).”
Directors and others do not believe they disregarded their financial responsibilities in handling administrators' contracts, the current administration told auditors.
“Rather, they report that a culture of trust had been established in the district from working with the previous administration for so many year,” auditors said. “Because of this, they operated in good faith when negotiating agreements.”
Mellinger admitted the pension problem has not been good for the district.
“Obviously, it's a public relation mess, because we're talking to you about it, and everywhere I go out in public, I hear about it,” Mellinger said.
Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Housing market remains ‘disaster’ in Westmoreland County
- Northampton man has four major drug arrests in Western Pa. since 2009
- Westmoreland judges’ caseloads unlikely to affect district boundary changes
- ‘Extreme extrovert’ takes over at WCCC
- New Ohiopyle park manager ready for big challenge that comes with job
- Mt. Pleasant seeks on-street bike trail through downtown
- Jeannette traffic stop leads to drug charges
- Chemical mix sickens two from South Greensburg
- Franklin Regional security guard fighting to get job back
- St. Michael’s volunteers cook up festival delights
- Dog-training program gives prison inmates chance to give back