PENN HILLS (KDKA) – State Rep. Tony DeLuca, of Penn Hills, has fired off a letter to Harrisburg asking the State Education Department to appoint a recovery officer to help the Penn Hills School District out of its financial mess.

The Penn Hills School Board earlier this week approved a preliminary budget, calling for a whopping tax increase of anywhere from 35 to 50 percent.

The District says it’s only a starting point, but nonetheless, that budget has raised red flags.

DeLuca told KDKA-TV News, “[The District is] evidently so much in debt, they need to have somebody come in here who knows what they are doing, and somebody who is going to say, ‘No, you can’t have this. And, no, you can’t have that.’”

Turns out, the school district’s former business manager called on Harrisburg for help when he was in charge back in 2013.

Richard Liberto, who was first suspended and later resigned his job in Penn Hills, got help from the Education Department in the form of a technical advisor, who he said came in twice a week for 11 months and gave financial advice.

But the Penn Hills School Board either voted his recommendations down, or turned a deaf ear to the proposals, according to Liberto.

In March of last year, before Liberto was suspended, KDKA-TV has learned he sent a letter to the Department, saying, “I am out of options. I am asking again for support from the [Education] Department. Is there anyone there who can force the [School] Board to listen? If not, we will be bouncing checks shortly.”

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The Penn Hills School Board released a statement on the situation Friday night. It reads in part:

“This Board has made a commitment to operating transparently. Unfortunately, honest updates are not always well received, especially when reports continue to be exploited by many. We have repeatedly stated that this is not going to be a quick or easy fix, but this Board is not prepared to give up. As always, we welcome the feedback we receive from our fellow taxpayers as we continue through this difficult time.”

Ralph Iannotti