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Penn Hills superintendent: District's revenues 'going to be short' sometime in next 5 years

Michael DiVittorio
| Monday, Oct. 3, 2016, 3:32 p.m.

Penn Hills School District officials won't reveal their five-year plan to improve the district's fiscal footing until there's an update to, or completion of, an investigation by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office.

“We cannot confirm when we'll have an update, but we do expect one at some point,” said Superintendent Nancy Hines at a finance committee meeting Sept. 19.

“We also know from communications with the district attorney that he's looking at a five-year projection as well. He's looked at some of (district Business Manager) Rob (Geletko's) figures, and it looks like they are similar in terms of the conclusions that they are drawing. ... I've asked (Geletko) to wait until we hear from the district attorney (and) the final report because I don't want to jeopardize anything that he may be working on in terms of some type of assistance for us.”

Geletko has been working on the five-year plan for months while preparing for the 2015-16 audit.

Hines declined to discuss specifics but said “there is going to be a point within this five-year term where revenue will not meet expenditure and we're going to be short.”

Zappala launched his investigation in June, a month after state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a scathing report about district finances.

The audit report showed fiscal mismanagement, bad business decisions and a lack of oversight led to district debt ballooning from $11 million in 2010 to more than $170 million.

Most of the debt comes from a $135 million bond issue in 2010 to fund construction and renovation of schools.

The district has put in place stricter checks and balances since the audit report, and those changes have made a significant difference, according to district officials.

“We made it through the summer with cash,” Geletko said.

He said all required paperwork has been submitted for the district to receive state reimbursement for high school and elementary school construction.

The district won't have to depend on the state intercept program this year. The program provides the legal ability to divert, or intercept, funds that the state pays to school districts. State aid payments can be intercepted and used to pay debt service.

Penn Hills received subsidy advances in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years to help make bond payments.

The district currently has about $25 million in the bank and will be able to meet payroll and pension obligations, and make a $6.6 million bond payment due this month.

Geletko commended the work of payroll specialist Marcie Lucci, who started work in his office Sept. 6.

These items were discussed at a curriculum committee meeting, which took place before the finance committee session:

• A Google grant for the Carnegie Science Center will pay for 80 fourth- through eighth-graders in the gifted program, as well as eight chaperones, to visit the center on the North Shore.

• Hines announced the district was in talks with the Josh Gibson Foundation about promoting sports management, and possibly partnering with California University of Pennsylvania, Robert Morris University or both so high school students could earn college credits.

• Board President Denise Graham-Shealey announced she was working with the high school student council to develop a “dress for success” program. Business owners would be involved, and the program would feature tips on how to prepare for interviews and the workforce.

The school board was to hold its regular meeting Sept. 26, after the deadline for this edition.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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