Lehighton orders audit of district finances
Lehighton Area School District’s board of directors agreed Monday night to seek proposals from firms willing to do a forensic audit of the district’s finances.
The motion made by director David Bradley passed unanimously.
“I would welcome a forensic audit,” said Patricia Denicola, Lehighton’s business administrator, who has been on the job since March. “I would not recommend using the district’s existing auditor, however. I believe a new set of eyes sees things a little more clearly.”
Bradley cited Jim Thorpe Area School District, Penn Hills, Scranton and several other districts as examples of why he pushed for a forensic audit in Lehighton.
“These are all situations where the board failed to oversee subordinate employees,” Bradley said. “Things get kicked down the road. That’s been happening here for at least 10 years. It doesn’t make it right.”
Jim Thorpe authorized a forensic audit in November after potential misuse of credit cards within the school district. The state auditor general’s office reviewed Scranton School District finances from 2012-16 and called it, “by far the worst debt situation of any school district in the state.”
Lehighton resident Barb Bowes commented Monday that she can also find the benefit in a forensic audit.
“Given the district’s $4.5 million budget deficit, I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” she said. “I’m not saying there is any money missing, but this community is upset. There is a distrust given some things that have happened over the past how many years.”
While the general financial statement audit takes a broader look at financial record keeping, the forensic audit is more specialized.
“The forensic audit looks deeper into things,” Denicola said. “It is usually looking for a particular type of transaction or type of event.”
Lehighton did not immediately have a cost estimate for a forensic audit.
Jim Thorpe’s agreement with Brown Schultz Sheridan and Fritz of Camp Hill calls for between $100 and $325 per hour, depending on the BSSF employee who conducts the work. There would be additional expenses if any legal action results from the audit where BSSF would have to testify. The agreement requires Jim Thorpe to put up a retainer of $5,000 before work can begin on the forensic audit.
As for a timeline in Lehighton, Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said the request for proposals would likely take around 30 days to get together and around another month to allow the firms to respond before moving forward.