Northern Cambria faces ethics questions

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is accusing Northern Cambria school board members of possible ethical violations and poor recordkeeping that have cost the district more than $25,000.

In an audit report, DePasquale said on two occasions, including once last year, school board members voted on a travel reimbursement and a private settlement agreement that involved their spouses, which is a potential violation of the state ethics act.

The audit report states that one board member, whose identity was not disclosed, voted with the board to approve a confidential settlement agreement that awarded $12,000 to an attorney representing the member’s spouse arising from an issue involving the spouse, children and the district.

The $12,000 was paid by an insurance carrier directly to the attorney.

That settlement occurred last year, said then-solicitor Carl Beard. No money was awarded to the board member’s spouse or daughter. All money was payment for their attorney fees to resolve the case, he said.

Beard could not speak in detail because of a confidentiality agreement, he said.

“This board member didn’t attend executive sessions when terms of the settlement were discussed. He was asked to step out,” Beard said. “I didn’t see any conflict.”

The audit report, covering years 2008 to 2013, reveals another ethically murky instance in which a board member approved a $1,500 payment to reimburse airfare for a district employee, who was his spouse, to attend an educational conference. The report noted that the check for the airfare was made payable to the educational group hosting the conference not the employee.

Beard was not solicitor at the time of that possible conflict of interest, he said. Board member Delvin Lockard confirmed the instance involving reimbursement for airfare.

“A member of the public questioned it. An attorney from Andrews and Beard said it was OK,” he said.

The audit also found that the district submitted inaccurate data for foster children from outside the area that resulted in it losing more than $25,000 in tuition reimbursement from the Department of Education and that for the third audit in a row, failed to correct procedures for accounting for non-public school transportation.

“While we are encouraged that the district has acknowledged potential conflicts of interest and problems with the maintenance of accurate student records, we urge district officials to put into place procedures to prevent such issues from recurring,” DePasquale stated in a press release. “We also have recommended that the district submit corrected enrollment and transportation information to the Department of Education to recoup the money owed to them.”

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