Daniel Matsook will remain Penn Hills School District’s chief financial recovery officer, state Department of Education officials decreed in response to an attempt by the school board to have him removed.
Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera informed district officials of the ruling via letter dated Sept. 30 and obtained by the Tribune-Review.
Matsook, former Wilkinsburg superintendent, was appointed as the school district’s financial recovery officer in February several weeks the state Department of Education placed Penn Hills in financial recovery. The district had been under a “financial watch” since 2017.
District officials approved a financial recovery plan June 29. State Department of Education officials did the same in mid-July.
“Matsook is in the best position to oversee the implementation of the district’s plan, which is the most critical issue at this time, and will remain the CRO appointed to serve the district,” Rivera wrote. “Because implementation of the board-approved plan and completion of its initiatives are critical to the district’s financial success, I have directed department staff to schedule regular meetings with district representatives, Dr. Matsook, and other appropriate individuals to ensure the plan is appropriately implemented at all levels.”
Rivera’s letter was in response to a Sept. 9 “Letter of No Confidence” from the board.
The school board alleged Matsook attempted to “employ or appoint people, entities or other businesses of his own choosing without notice, input or consultation with the Penn Hills school board.”
The letter said his actions “create the appearance of impropriety and place in question the motives (of Matsook).”
Both parties involved said late last month miscommunication and misunderstandings led to the board’s complaints.
Board President Erin Vecchio said there was frustration surrounding a contract with the law firm Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC and financial advisers Public Financial Management.
She said Matsook violated school code by not bringing Weiss’ proposal of special counsel services for the recovery plan at $165 per hour to a school board committee prior to approval. Questions about who would pay PFM’s $90,000 fee for bond restructuring support and advising also went unanswered until recently.
Vecchio contended Weiss’ assistance in these matters was unnecessary because district Solicitor Bruce Dice, PFM and Michael Lamb, a technical adviser appointed by the state, could handle it.
Weiss has since withdrawn as special counsel for the recovery plan, but remains committed to assist in district special education matters. The state will pay for PFM’s services.
Rivera noted representatives from the district and his department recently met to addressed the aforementioned issues and any other concerns regarding the recovery plan.
He said that meeting “ultimately concluded on a positive note.”
Rivera’s letter also stated the school board remains the district’s governing authority, but should “refrain from taking action that would impede implementation of the plan.”
“Failure to do so could have negative implications as mandated by law,” Rivera wrote.
Matsook’s glad to get the state response.
“Now that everything has been officially cleared up, we are moving forward,” Matsook said.
Vecchio echoed Matsook’s comments, and commended Rivera and the state for taking quick action.
“We’re committed to moving this district forward, and we will stay in that direction,” Vecchio said. “I thank them for investigating the things that we gave them, and it was done in a timely manner. I thank them for coming in to town and meeting with the whole board and taking our concerns seriously.”
The recovery plan is available for review on the district’s website, phsd.k12.pa.us.
The next school board voting meeting is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Linton Middle School.