Despite a presentation given by administrators in May, and several follow-up communications between district officials, several Panther Valley school board directors are still not satisfied that they have all the answers they are looking for about transportation reimbursement figures from the Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit.
At the May 13 regular board meeting, Dr. Elaine Eib, the executive director of the CLIU, gave a power point presentation outlining how the district was charged for the transportation of its students by the IU. During that meeting, it was indicated that the IU receives both state and federal reimbursement for transportation costs, through Leader Services.
CLIU business manager Ivy Harding explained that the current IU practice is to hold the federal reimbursement in an account for each district. As students from that district need equipment, it is purchased from that fund. At that meeting, Hiles asked for an accounting of money that was held in Panther Valley's name, as well as what equipment had been purchased for Panther Valley students.
More than one month later, the district has still not received that information. Panther Valley Superintendent Rosemary Porembo said that she has been in contact with Harding, however, the IU transportation billing is only done once annually, at the end of July. Porembo said that the district will receive the report at that time. She added that Harding estimated that the IU could be receiving about $9,500 in reimbursement for Panther Valley students for the 2009-2010 school year.
Hiles questioned why the previous year's reports were not already available.
"They say this money is sitting there in an account with our name on it. It should be a couple clicks of a button to find out what last year's reports are," he said. Director Bill Hunsicker added that the reimbursement practice has been going on for about four years.
"That could be $40,000," said Hiles. "It could also be $15,000 or it could be $60,000. We don't know and we can't document it. I want to know where it's going."
What course the district has if the money, or at least an accounting of it, is not forthcoming is not entirely clear. Rick Caffrey, the special education director, explained that legally, the money is billed to Leader Services on behalf of the individual child.
"The IU is a rightful owner. Leader Services has established that the IU, as well as the school district, are rightful owners. But the answer is that neither of you is the owner. That money is billed on behalf of the child," he explained, adding thathere are other services besides transportation for which the IU receives reimbursement.
Hiles questioned whether the current practice is actually double dipping.
"I asked them if they were satisfied with what they got from Harrisburg. They said yes. If that's the case, why are they applying for reimbursement from Leader Services?" he asked.
Board President Jeff Markovich suggested that the district pursue the matter legally.
"I think that we're going to be stonewalled on this because it's going to be an embarrassment to the IU," he said. "It seems they've gotten caught with their hand in the cookie jar."
Porembo agreed that there are questions that need to be answered, but first the district needs to review the report as provided by the IU.
"Before we go that route, we should see if we're entitled to any of that money. I don't want to spend money if we're not going to get any back," he said.
Director Anthony Pondish also recommended waiting. Referring to Eib, who has only recently taken the executive director position, he said, "Let's see how she handles things."