Auditor general investigating AASD

Two investigations are under way to sort out allegations of possible illegal pay raises doled out to Altoona Area School District administrative staff.

The Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office is conducting an audit of the district, but spokesman Ivan Anderson was mum about details.

“We are doing an ongoing audit of the school district, which is in progress. I cannot discuss the details,” he said.

He offered no time frame of when it would be finished, and in regard to the start date, he said only: “We began recently.”

“We will issue a report and offer recommendations,” he said. “It will be up to the board to implement them.”

District solicitor Dave Andrews also is looking into the reported raises.

Board President Ryan Beers on Tuesday presented board members with a spreadsheet of raises given to seven administrative staff members that didn’t match contracted rates.

Those individuals are still working for the district.

Andrews denied media access to Beers’ spreadsheet, claiming it was related to a personnel issue and integral to his investigation.

Beers alleged that the workers were given raises of 6 to 8 percent instead of the 3 to 4 percent as called for in their contracts.

This resulted in the employees earning more than they should have, Beers said.

A Mirror analysis showed one employee who was earning $82,900 in 2007 saw his salary increase to $94,900 in 2010 because of the larger raises. Based on the smaller contracted raises, that employee’s 2010 salary would have been $87,800.

The higher salary also meant the district had to contribute about $1,000 more toward that employee’s pension benefits between 2007 and 2010.

Andrews is conducting an investigation “as quickly as possible,” he said, to find out how the raises, if true, may have been given.

If raises were discussed and passed in executive sessions, as former board President Jim Walstrom said was true for a case in 2010, then the raises would be illegal under the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law, which requires official action be taken at public meetings.

Dick Lockard, a board member for more than 40 years, declined to answer whether he was familiar with the salary increases Beers questioned.

Beers said all of the individuals whose salaries are in question are central office administrative staff. All of the employees in that category were contracted for raises between 3.5 percent and 4 percent from 2007 to 2010.

Past board member Margaret “Ticky” Hendricks could place only one increase that Beers referred to and said she remembers it “vividly.”

It was the raise Walstrom referred to, $10,000, effective for the 2010-11 school year for Superintendent Dennis Murray’s confidential secretary. Hendricks believes it was voted publicly.

A major aspect of the investigations in progress is who authorized the raises and how.

Beers said the raises appeared to have stemmed from Murray’s office.

Board member Tim Lucas said he is skeptical of any figures until he sees the data himself.

“He [Beers] certainly pointed out a discrepancy,” Lucas said. “I’d like to see additional information because I’m not sure if it is a true discrepancy.”

The state Department of Education will not have any part of the investigations.

“Salary issues are a local matter,” said Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller. “The department of education is not involved.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.