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Auditor: Hundreds of thousands spent to boot superintendents

By   /   May 23, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

Buy-outs exceed $889K

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania called out two more school districts for paying hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to discharge contracts.

“In these difficult financial times, school districts cannot afford to be wasting hard-earned taxpayer dollars on contract buy-outs,” Auditor General Jack Wagner said.

The state Department of Auditor General released two reports Wednesday for the Gettysburg Area School District and the city of Allentown School District­ that show a combined $889,000 in superintendent buy-outs.

The audits come after a $905,000 buy-out for former superintendent Arlene Ackerman of the Philadelphia School District.

“In these difficult financial times, school districts cannot afford to be wasting hard-earned taxpayer dollars on contract buy-outs,” Auditor General Jack Wagner said in a statement. “Lofty buy-outs of key administrator contracts send a message to the public that school districts are out of touch with taxpayers and are not being careful stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

The auditor’s investigations have found $2.3 billion in buy-outs statewide.

A state Senate bill seeks to publicize contract buy-outs under the state’s Right-to-Know law. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin,on Tuesday.

The recent audits showed that former Superintendent William Hall in Gettysburg received a total of nearly $590,000 in salary, benefits, and mortgage loan and interest forgiveness on a house he purchased from the school district. The mortgage and interest on the house was valued at $313,293, according to the audit report.

The buy-out occurred nine months into the four-and-a-half-year agreement, according to the audit. The district indicated that Hall left for personal reasons. Combined with an additional $32,603 the district spent while finding a new superintendent, Hall’s departure cost $622,000, according to the audit.

In a response with the audit, district management said no unlawful activity was uncovered, and it would consider the auditor’s recommendations in future dealings.

Superintendent Larry Redding, who took over after Hall was placed on leave, reserved comment on the audit.

In Allentown, former Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak received $267,000 as part of a contract buy-out that included keeping his salary at $195,000 when he was re-hired as director of strategic initiatives. Other benefits included $55,000 in a lump-sum payment.

In a management response, the district disagreed with the value of the buy-out.

The district says it saved at least $700,000 by terminating the remaining four years of Zahorchak’s contract. That exceeds the cost of the buy-out agreement. The district said the $55,000 payment covered the forfeiture of benefits that exceeded $100,000.

“The School District believes that the Altered Employment Agreement was negotiated in good faith and represents an efficient and effective resolution of the Superintendent’s contract rights and also the needs of the District,” said the response from the district.

A representative from the Allentown School District responded to a request for comment but the district superintendent was unavailable.