Impending sale of Schenley High in Pittsburgh worries state auditor general

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State Auditor General Jack Wagner has released an audit of Pittsburgh Public Schools that includes concerns about the potential sale of the former Schenley High School in Oakland.

The historic building was closed in 2008 after district officials said asbestos and other repairs would cost too much.

Bids for its reuse are set to be opened Jan. 18 while some supporters of the school continue to argue for its reopening.

Mr. Wagner included statements about Schenley in a letter last week to Gov. Tom Corbett and school board President Sharene Shealey about the audit findings.

He wrote that, "though not an objective of this audit," he likens the sale of Schenley to the state's completed and controversial sale of the State Office Building, Downtown, and urged any decision "be done in a transparent process supported with accurate data that ... benefits the students and taxpayers of the city of Pittsburgh."

District solicitor Ira Weiss said, "I don't think it's an audit issue. ... It's a political issue. To compare it with the way the state sold the State Office Building is totally inappropriate."

Mr. Weiss noted there has been a public request for proposal, a tour of the school for all potential bidders, a planned bid opening and public vote.

The audit made four findings about the district:

• Over a five-year period starting 2006-07, 10 principals and 117 teachers lacked proper certification, which could cause the district to forfeit as much as $390,337 in state subsidies.

Mr. Weiss said the district has worked to improve its procedures but has lost some subsidy. The amount was not available Tuesday from the state Department of Education.

• Student activity funds are not handled properly, including incurring year-end deficits. The audit notes the district's response stating there is increased training and new software.

• The district and the city police do not have a memo of understanding. Mr. Weiss said the city has declined to sign one.

• The audit said a $140,000 agreement when Christopher Berdnik, then chief financial officer/chief operations officer, resigned from the district in 2010 was "not in the best interest of taxpayers." The district's response in the audit said the details around the settlement agreement are "confidential personnel matters."

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Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955.


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