The Allegheny County district attorney’s office is performing a forensic audit of a $350,000 federal grant awarded to the Wilkinsburg School District for an after-school program to provide academic enrichment and career preparation for middle school students.
Investigators for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. were at the school Wednesday seeking financial records for the program dating back to April 2012, said Linda Croushore, executive director of the Consortium for Public Education, which partners with Wilkinsburg to sponsor the 21st Century Career after-school program.
Mike Manko, spokesman for the district attorney, said the investigators’ visit was a follow-up to the “IT misappropriation investigation.”
That probe led to a felony theft charge filed against Christopher Spradley, 31, the former director of the 21st Century program. Mr. Spradley of Lincoln-Lemington is accused of taking a 3-D printer valued at $3,200, two laptop computers and two Xbox gaming systems from the program. He was ordered last month to stand trial by District Judge Kim Hoots and faces formal arraignment May 2.
The thefts were discovered last fall when police say Mr. Spradley tried to sell the 3-D printer at a Downtown Pittsburgh pawn shop and the owner called district officials and Pittsburgh police. The printer was later recovered.
According to a police criminal complaint, the incident took place on Oct. 28. On Nov. 5, it was reported by former superintendent Lee McFerren to Wilkinsburg police, who investigated and filed the criminal charge.
Donna Micheaux, who replaced Mr. McFerren as substitute superintendent, confirmed the district attorney’s office is investigating the 21st Century program but said through a spokeswoman that she had no further comment because of the ongoing investigation.
Ms. Micheaux became substitute superintendent March 28, the same day the Wilkinsburg school board placed Mr. McFerren on paid administrative leave in advance of terminating his contract at the end of the school year.
Ms. Croushore said that after the pawn shop incident, she ordered an audit of all the 21st Century program’s equipment and it determined that two additional laptops and two Xbox systems also were missing. Mr. Spradley later paid restitution for the stolen items with gift cards and cash, including $200 he brought to his preliminary hearing last month.
The federal 21st Century grant program was approved by Congress for the creation of academic enrichment programs during non-school hours for children who attend high-poverty, low-income schools. The programs are aimed at improving academic achievement in core areas such as reading, math and science.
The Wilkinsburg program has focused largely on STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) subjects and career exploration.
In its initial year, the program was operated by the district and Communities in Schools. But when CIS dropped out as a partner, Ms. Croushore said the Wilkinsburg district asked the Consortium for Education to come aboard as a partner in October 2013 and to get the program up and running within a week.
She said the consortium was chosen because it operates a successful 21st Century program in the Clairton School District.
Ms. Croushore said she hired Mr. Spradley at the recommendation of Wilkinsburg officials, who said he “had successful substitute experience in the district.”
However, it appears Mr. Spradley did not have a current certification to teach in October 2013. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Mr. Spradley had an emergency permit to be a K-12 day-to-day substitute for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, which was valid from Oct. 20, 2011 to July 31, 2012.
Ms. Croushore said it was not a requirement of the federal grant to have a certified teacher in charge of the program. It is currently being directed by Wilkinsburg Middle School principal Candee Hovis.
Paula Reed Ward contributed. Mary Niederberger: email@example.com or 412-263-1590. First Published April 16, 2014 11:55 AM