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Town hall on Penn Hills School District’s financial woes scheduled for Feb. 28 | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Town hall on Penn Hills School District’s financial woes scheduled for Feb. 28

Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, February 21, 2019 3:49 p.m
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Members of the public will a chance to voice concerns over the embattled Penn Hills School District’s dire financial straits at a town hall hosted by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Feb. 28.

“I invite students, teachers, support staff and parents to bring suggestions about how we can come together as a community to turn around the Penn Hills School District,” DePasquale said Thursday in a statement.

The event will be held at Community College of Allegheny County’s Boyce Campus at 595 Beatty Road in Monroeville. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the meeting runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The town hall follows this month’s release of a scathing grand jury report by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office into how the district of about 3,800 students plunged into financial ruin. Its debt load now exceeds $170 million, or nearly double the district’s annual budget.

The grand jury came up with no indictments or criminal wrongdoing.

RELATED: Grand jury: Penn Hills school leaders plunged district into ‘economic ruin’

The grand jury’s findings focused on the district’s mismanagement of bond-funded school construction projects as the “most egregious example of the abuse of public trust” and reason for the district’s crushing debt.

It found that the district jeopardized the education of its students and overburdened taxpayers for decades through “egregious” overspending, “inexcusable” carelessness and “inept” decision-making rife with the appearance of impropriety.

“My 2016 audit of Penn Hills, which prompted the grand jury probe, found a shocking level of mismanagement and lack of oversight that led to the district’s enormous debt problem,” DePasquale said. “Although the grand jury did not recommend criminal charges, it agreed that the decisions made by former district leaders have had a disastrous impact on the district and the community.”

An August 2016 Trib investigation found, aside from declining enrollment and charter school competition, factors such as unrealistic expectations, pricey wish lists, poor planning, rampant turnover among key leaders and ignoring expert advice in favor of personal or political decisions contributed to the financial problems plaguing the district.

A state-installed financial recovery officer began work at the district last week.

On Tuesday, the board voted to seek a 6-percent tax increase next year, above the typical maximum allowed by state law. The proposed tax increase would reduce the district’s 2019-20 deficit from $10.9 million to $8.2 million, in an annual budget that includes $98 million in expenditures and $89.9 million in revenues.

The proposed, new 30.5818-rate would amount to the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 paying about $192 more in taxes next year.

In comparison, the 2018-19 millage rate was 21.0757 in Plum, 24.32 in Mt. Lebanon, 25.35 in Woodland Hills and 26.972 in East Allegheny and 29.5 in Wilkinsburg.

RELATED: Penn Hills in line to hike taxes more than 6 percent

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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