Jim Thorpe denies credit report release
Jim Thorpe Area School District has officially denied public requests to inspect an auditor’s report on potential misuse of district credit cards.
The Times News and at least one resident filed separate requests to obtain a copy of a “forensic review” conducted by an accounting firm, which the district received last month.
On Friday, the district sent response letters denying the requests.
Last November the school board voted to spend up to $15,000 for Brown Schultz Sheridan and Fritz of Camp Hill to conduct the review. They approved the expense after residents questioned why the district credit card was used to charge thousands in expenses for meals at area restaurants and first class plane tickets.
While the school board president said during a meeting earlier this year that the public should see the audit, the district’s letter said that it is exempt from the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law.
The letter, signed by Superintendent John Rushefski, said the document is not subject to the law because of attorney-client privilege, contains protected employee information, and relates to an investigation.
It is unclear whether the board has any plans to release the results of the taxpayer-funded review.
Rushefski referred questions about the report to school board solicitor Carl P. Beard. Beard was not available for comment.
Last year, residents used the state’s right to know law to obtain statements from a district credit card in the name of business manager Lauren Kovac. The statements showed thousands of dollars worth of charges for first class airline tickets and lunches at area restaurants attended by the former superintendent and board members.
The school board never authorized Kovac to apply for the card, but they approved regular payments for expenses she charged on it, including the meals and plane tickets.
The card was officially in the name of “Lauren Kovac, Jim Thorpe Area School District.” Statements were addressed to Kovac at the district office.
According to right to know requests, the board approved paying back $35,816.76 in expenses charged to the card between 2015-2018. Of those, $4,443.88 worth of the expenses were for meals at area restaurants.
The first-class plane tickets were used for Gasper and two school board members to attend a school board conferences out of state.
After residents started asking questions about the misuse, the district hired an auditor to conduct a forensic review of the administrators’ credit card use.
The district took other steps as well. They said they would limit the district credit card to a $500 spending limit going forward. Board members said they put a clause in Rushefski’s contract which prohibits him from flying first class while on district business.
Last October, then-board President Dennis McGinley said the board was recommending a forensic audit to ensure the public that there was no improper use of the credit card.
“Every audit over the last 10 years, by independent or state auditors, has shown no evidence of irregularities or questionable transactions,” McGinley said at the time.
School board candidate Cindy Henning was one of the residents who filed a request for the report.
“First of all they voted for a forensic audit of the credit card, not a forensic review, and they paid more than the $15,000 they voted on and now they won’t release it after the board president repeatedly said it would be released,” Henning said Friday night,
“This is what a sense of entitlement looks like, no accountability, no guilt.”
Resident Paul Montemuro, also a school board candidate, initially filed the right to know request for the credit card statements. He said the board did not follow through with its pledge to conduct a forensic audit, instead going through a less thorough forensic review.
“The board itself did not approve a review. The board itself approved an audit. To me, the money was misspent,” Montemuro said.
The district may not have permission to release the audit. The contract with the auditor said that the district would have to ask them for permission to release the report.
Since the board commissioned the report they hired a new attorney, Beard Legal Group of Altoona, and hired Rushefski to replace Gasper. Pearl Downs-Sheckler also took over as board president for Dennis McGinley.
Sheckler said in May that she feels that the report should be made public.
“It will be made public. Taxpayers are paying for it. The public needs to know what’s in it, and the recommendations,” Downs-Sheckler said in May.
Henning called for accountability Friday night. “As a taxpayer I think we should ask for every board member’s resignation because they are not serving our students or taxpayers. They are serving themselves,” Henning said.