Altoona raising public ire

Authorities need to quickly get the facts on allegations that Altoona Area School District administrative staff might have been awarded unauthorized raises and give them to the public.

Combined the raises in question for seven central administration employees amount in at least the tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Board President Ryan Beers brought the issue to light during Tuesday night’s board meeting, although he did not identify the individuals involved or provide many specifics on the raises.

Beers, who joined the board in 2010, started looking into the matter after noticing an unusually high salary increase of $10,000 for an employee about two years ago.

Beers told fellow board members that he found salary increases for at least seven district employees that he can’t find records that the school board approved.

District Superintendent Dennis Murray, who was absent from the meeting and was to undergo shoulder surgery for an injury stemming from a fall, said he would look into the matter when he returns to the job.

Murray isn’t the only one giving the matter more scrutiny.

District solicitor David Andrews said he is reviewing documents on the matter. Also the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office is doing an audit of the district, but a spokesman declined to give details.

A thorough investigation is warranted because former school board President James Walstrom said he recalls the board agreeing (but not formally voting) on a pay increase during an executive session – an action he thought was legal because the employee would be remaining in the same position.

If Walstrom’s recall is accurate, then Andrews, who is well-versed in the Sunshine Law, might want to set up a refresher course for all the school board members and the administrators who attended that executive session.

Andrews knows, as outlined in the Sunshine Law, that all school district salaries and pay changes are subject to school board approval and that all school board votes are to be taken in public.

While the Sunshine Law permits school boards to meet in executive session to discuss specific personnel issues, it doesn’t require use of that option.

So when the school board is ready to meet with Murray, Andrews or any other district employee to talk about these salary discrepancies, we call on the board members to meet in public and decline any suggestion of meeting behind closed doors.

The discrepancies described are disturbing, and taxpayers deserve to know everything.