Disputed salaries frozen

Salaries have been frozen for Altoona Area School District employees whose raises

have been subject to investigations.

The salary freezes go into effect beginning with the 2013-14 school year for seven employees of the district who were found by the district’s independent investigation as well as the state auditor general to have received raises that were not board approved including one employee who had been added to the list after the board’s independent investigation was made public June 5.

Board member Skip Dry said the contracts passed on Monday night, in a 5-2 vote, cover the dozens of district administrative employees for the next two years and

those not included in the investigations.

The specific raises varied among the employees and were

not listed on Monday night’s agenda. Inquiries by board President Ryan Beers led to the two investigations that found raises of past and present employees had been administered by former Superintendent Dennis Murray without

board approval between 2007 and 2011.

The board’s investigator, attorney Paul Cianci of Philadelphia, determined that employees whose salaries were increased without board approval were led to

believe they were approved publicly.

Murray denies breaking school code in giving the raises and maintains they were discussed in executive board sessions.

Sharon Bream and Ron Johnston were absent for the board’s Monday night meeting, but Dry, Elizabeth Chapman, Tim Lucas, Vice President Maryann Joyce Bistline and President Ryan Beers voted to pass the agreements.

Dick Lockard and Cheryl Rupp cast dissenting votes.

Rupp had said she opposes raises for any administrative employee because the board’s

2013-14 budget shows a $4 million deficit.

Dry disagreed, saying, “People who got raises deserved them.”

District Solicitor Dave Andrews has said the board will not seek back-pay from Murray to reconcile the raises given without board approval.

Murray’s lawyers continue to fight against the department of the auditor general for issuing a report that contradicted findings of an investigator who believed violations of school code applied to the board for not voting on the raises in public and not recording the votes in board minutes.

Following a story by the Mirror about the former auditor general investigator, Murray’s lawyers have corresponded with the auditor general demanding changes to the audit report.

Murray’s lawyers have demanded changes to the auditor general report by Thursday or they said they will report the matter to be investigated for governmental obstruction.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio are the most likely to be called to investigate, Murray’s Reed-Smith Attorney Gene Connors stated in an email.

Beers didn’t seem overly concerned.

“It’s a free country, and people can sue because coffee is too hot,” he said. “That office [Office of Special Investigations] was disbanded, and he [investigator] thought the audit was over, but the auditor general clearly said it wasn’t over. To the district, the matter is closed.”