PENN HILLS (KDKA) — The Penn Hills School District is grappling with a $10 million shortfall.
At a school board meeting Monday night, the situation was being described as serious, urgent and degrading. And now taxpayers are worried about plans to hike property taxes.
Now, the district’s suspended business manager is opening up about the situation, and says he’s been warning school officials for years about it.
Richard Liberto, Penn Hills School District’s business manager, was placed on administrative leave last month and he’s not sure why.
KDKA’s Paul Martino: “Why do you think they sent you home?”
Liberto: “I’m not sure. Not sure.”
Martino: “No explanation?”
Liberto: “No explanation whatsoever. None.”
But it’s clear that Liberto was sent home while the school board deals with a $10-million shortfall. Liberto says he is not to blame.
“I made comments at our public finance committee meetings that we we’re out of money. We were hemorrhaging money, was my exact words,” Liberto said.
He says he’s been warning them for years. So, where did the money go?
“Charter schools are rising, health care costs are going up, pension costs have increased 70 percent,” says Liberto.
Currently, there are 850 Penn Hills students in charter schools. The number has doubled in the past five years. It cost the district $15 million a year.
So now the school board is making an unusual move. They’re trying to get an $18 million loan just to pay its bills. But they’ll have to raise property taxes to make the loan payment.
If they raise property taxes just one mill, it will cost the owner of a $100,000 home another $150 bucks a year.
Liberto stops short of blaming anyone for the mess, but he says it should come as no surprise.
“Historically, I’ve been telling them during the budget process and after the budget process that we have no cash. We’re running out of cash,” he said.
Liberto has more than five years remaining on a contract that pays him more than $100,000 a year. He’s not sure how that will be resolved.
KDKA reached out to a district spokesperson about Liberto’s claims, but so far she hasn’t responded. Also, there’s no indication so far of any stolen funds.