By MARK GUYDISH
KINGSTON — A report from the state Auditor General's Office accuses Wyoming Valley West School Board of “wasting” more than $1.1 million in taxpayer money in a lengthy and failed battle with the West Side Career and Technology Center, where more than 300 WVW students are enrolled annually.
The rebuke comes at the end of what is otherwise a clean audit report designed to ensure districts are in compliance with state and federal law.
The Auditor General's Office makes no recommendations for punishment or other state actions, but does chastise the board and urges it to “consider the taxpayers' expectation that their money will be used wisely for the education of the district's children when approving or rejecting agreements.”
The criticism centers on the board's April 2008 decision not to approve what is usually a routine agreement among the five member school districts that send students to the center for both career and academic training. Terms of the agreement include setting the number of representatives each member district can have on the Joint Operating Committee that runs the center.
The report notes that district administration waived the opportunity to respond to audit findings before they are made public. Contacted Thursday, board member Brian Dubaskas said the issues between the district and the center had been ongoing years before the stretch cited by the report.
“It was a decision that was made because we needed to make sure everyone understood our concerns,” Dubaskas said, and that it probably helped improve things at the center for the district.
For years, Wyoming Valley West has argued it should have greater representation on the JOC because it provides a much larger percentage of students to the center than any other member district. The report notes the board refused to sign the agreement in 2008 because it wanted changes in representation, financial planning and proposed center upgrades.
But refusing to sign the agreement meant WVW was no longer a “member” of the JOC and thus had to pay a higher “non-member” tuition for each student, a situation that lasted for more than two years. The auditor general report contends the district spent $1,159,331 more in tuition than it would have spent if it had been a member.
The report also notes that the board voted to sign the agreement in June 2010 for one year only, but that the time limitation was not relayed in writing to the JOC and the JOC ultimately rejected WVW's return to the fold. The confusion was not cleared up until January 2011, when the WVW board voted to return to the center JOC retroactive to July 1, 2010.
“While I am pleased to note that Wyoming Valley West School District is once again a member of the career center and is no longer paying the higher non-resident tuition, it is distressing that taxpayers are out more than $1 million that could have been better used in the district's classrooms,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in a press release.