Auditor general to give Pittsburgh schools another look

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A year after then-state Auditor General Jack Wagner released an audit of Pittsburgh Public Schools, his replacement, Eugene DePasquale, stood beside new Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Monday to announce the auditor general will review the school district again.

In the mayor's conference room, Mr. DePasquale said that his office, instead of auditing school districts every four years, now is dividing districts into high, medium and low priorities.

He said Pittsburgh is in the first wave of "high-risk audits."

The list includes Harrisburg schools, Penns Manor in Indiana County and Easton Area in Northampton County.

Harrisburg also had a January 2013 audit report under Mr. Wagner; Penns Manor had a June report under Mr. DePasquale; and Easton had a 2011 report.

Mr. DePasquale said he did not want to "presuppose what the audit may or may not say," but he mentioned a wide range of topics, including test scores, charter school spending, school safety and school nutrition.

The announcement comes less than two months after Pittsburgh Public Schools released its own study from a $2.4 million "envisioning" process, which covers ways to address financial and academic challenges. The resulting report -- "Whole Child, Whole Community" -- calls for widespread community involvement as its recommendations are considered.

Pittsburgh school officials have stated the district will run out of money in 2016 if it doesn't change course.

District spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said, "We encourage the auditor general to view the recommendations of the plan and look forward to any additional recommendations the auditor may have."

Pittsburgh school officials did not attend the news conference.

Mr. DePasquale criticized the state's elimination of its partial reimbursement to school districts for charter school costs in recent years, a move that he said has hit Pittsburgh hard.

"If the state had not cut the charter school reimbursement, the school district of Pittsburgh could have put at least $25 million more into education programs in the past three years," he said in a news release.

Mr. DePasquale said the audit might be done in a year and interim reports might be issued.

The joint announcement was another sign of Mr. Peduto's involvement in school issues.

He has repeatedly spoken about how important the district's health is to the health of the city, has attended the swearing-in of new school board members and has met with representatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about the future of the grant aimed at improving teacher quality.

He sees his role as helping to mediate differences.

"It's walking a fine line between all parties," he said at the news conference Monday.

He said he thinks the audit will provide data that will be useful for making decisions.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955. First Published January 27, 2014 1:16 PM

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