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PENN HILLS, Pa. (KDKA) – Catastrophic financial condition.
Those are the words from a Grand Jury report regarding the Penn Hills School District.
The Grand Jury blames the school board and district officials for poor leadership, but it did not recommend criminal charges.
An Allegheny County Grand Jury report on the state of the financially strapped Penn Hills School District is out.
This comes almost a decade after two expensive construction projects in the district left Penn Hills more than $172 million in debt.
The Grand Jury report blames the school board and district officials with poor leadership, decision-making and favoritism calling its financial condition “catastrophic.”
Even still, the current superintendent has faith due in part to the Grand Jury report, in what may be the beginning of financial recovery.
Penn Hills school board president Erin Vecchio says, “The schools that were built are totally different,
They’re like Taj Mahal’s.”
Vecchio is talking about the new elementary and high schools, part of a $140 million district project which Included a new $60 million Penn Hills High School.
“There’s a staircase up there we can’t even use because it’s deemed not safe. There’s a $60,000 chandelier,” said Vecchio.
Vecchio was not on the board during the facilities upgrade vote finds the Grand Jury’s report incomplete.
Vecchio adds, “Why did you do this investigation of you were only doing it half? You didn’t indict anybody. You’re saying the school board members caused this catastrophe?”
The long awaited report blames the district’s financial downfall on incompetence of former board members and district leaders as well as third-party vendors.
“We have political corruption out here. Every one of these contracts in the school district were given to people’s friends,” said Vecchio.
Those construction projects according to the Grand Jury report, included a politically connected architect. The findings indicate it’s all part of the reason for the district’s $172 million debt, with the third-highest tax rate in Allegheny County.
Yet, the current Penn Hills superintendent is hopeful about the district’s new financial recovery status outlined in the findings.
Dr. Nancy Hines Superintendent of the Penn Hills School District says, “We’re interested to see what it might look like now that a chief recovery officer is going to be appointed.”
Hines added, “This is kind of unprecedented.”
The district has had to make difficult pay freezes and furloughs of teachers of late and Dr. Hines is hopeful no programs or extra-curriculars will need to be cut.
Hines said, “I think that anything that is not required in terms of academic programming would be vulnerable.”
The newly named chief financial recovery officer assisting both school and state is a former assistant superintendent in Penn Hills. The current superintendent says this will be helpful in shepherding the district forward. These are nearly 4,000 students in the Penn Hills School District, Hines added it must survive and will.
In the meantime one of the recommendations made by the Grand Jury may require referendums for costly projects for all districts in the future.