West Mifflin schools: Excessive spending leads to woe
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The financial struggles that have faced the West Mifflin Area School District for the past two years were caused by district officials significantly overspending from 2007 to 2010, according to a special audit performed by the firm Case Sabatini.
The audit, presented at Tuesday's board meeting, put into black and white what some school directors and administrators already knew -- that the district went from having a $4.5 million surplus as of June 30, 2007 to a $3.1 million deficit as of June 30, 2010. School directors ordered the audit in January 2011 when they first learned of the deficit.
The audit covers the school years 2004-05 through 2009-10.
The audit doesn't point to any malfeasance for the overspending. But auditor Ed Gardner implied that district leadership spent without regard to the budget, adding numerous employees to the payroll at a time when enrollment was static.
Mr. Gardner said the district overspent its budget by $4 million in 2008, $5.4 million in 2009 and $2.6 million in 2010. In each of those years, revenues were higher than anticipated but not high enough to cover the overspending, he said.
"I would have considered this to be alarming myself. School districts are not supposed to go over budget," Mr. Gardner said.
He pointed out that the number of employees during the audit years grew from 334 to 446, with the bulk of the hiring taking place between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 school years.
Those years correspond with the tenure of former superintendent Patrick Risha, who led the district from Nov. 2006 until Nov. 2009. Mr. Risha retired with two years remaining on his contract. He died in October 2010.
"I think the numbers speak for themselves. The district and the board grossly overspent during the 2007 to 2010 school years," said school director Phil Shar, who had been a vocal critic of Mr. Risha. That criticism cost Mr. Shar his position as girls basketball coach in 2009.
West Mifflin school directors have struggled with finances since balancing the 2010-11 budget, which required the furlough of 13 employees, including five administrators. Balancing the 2011-12 budget required the elimination of 47 district employees, including a number of teachers, and programs at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
The district could face further furloughs this year if the board votes next week to close New England Elementary as recommended by Superintendent Daniel Castagna.
At Thursday's meeting some school directors expressed frustration at the actions of former administrations and boards. "Somewhere during this period the checks and balances were not taken into account by certain people," school director Nick Alexandroff said.
Mr. Gardner said the good news from the audit is that since 2011 the district appears to be staying within its budget. Mr. Castagna said if the board adopts the 2012-13 budget he has proposed, it should have a positive fund balance heading into the new school year.
First Published June 22, 2012 12:00 am