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Audit says Sto-Rox 'teetering on the edge' of joining state's fiscal watch list

Jamie Martines
| Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, 4:33 p.m.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale

Sto-Rox School District is "teetering on the edge" of joining the state's watch list for financially troubled school districts and also failing to meet basic safety guidelines, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday.

A routine performance audit by DePasquale's office looked at the period from July 1, 2012, through June 20, 2015.

"The district's professional staff is doing its best to cut costs where possible, but there are just too many circumstances working against those efforts. It is time for Harrisburg to step up and lend a hand," DePasquale said.

DePasquale put Sto-Rox among the most financially distressed school districts in the state. Seven districts are currently on the state's financial watch list, including Penn Hills and Wilkinsburg in Allegheny County and Aliquippa in Beaver County.

Sto-Rox experienced operating deficits in every year of the audit. The district's general fund balance dropped from more than $1.3 million in 2013 to negative $2.6 million as of June 2016.

Charter school tuition costs — $4.6 million in 2016 — made up 18 percent of the district's expenses as of June 2016.

The district also failed to make on-time payments to the Public School Employees' Retirement System fund, resulting in a loss of $1,798,974 in state Department of Education basic education and retirement subsidies. The district also was assessed interest charges of $34,115 due to late payments, according to the report.

"It appears that at the time, using retirement contribution funds to cover operating expenses was the most financially prudent decision the Sto-Rox School District could make. It is troubling that the district was forced to make this decision," DePasquale said.

In addition to fiscal problems, the audit also revealed that the district failed to meet safety guidelines for school bus drivers and bus monitors for the fourth audit in a row.

"Specifically, we found the district did not ensure that all bus drivers and bus monitors had the required credentials and criminal history clearances before they transported students at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year," the report said.

The audit showed that eight of the district's 31 bus drivers that school year did not have proper documentation related to their Pennsylvania Criminal History Record, while 24 of the 31 drivers and two of three bus monitors did not have the proper documentation related to their federal criminal history record, the report said.

The district was instructed to review all employment documentation for current drivers and monitors and establish written policies to ensure employment requirements are met.

Sto-Rox enrolled 1,268 students from McKees Rocks and Stowe last school year, state records show.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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