Lehighton business administrator responds to controversy over moving accounts
Controversy over a previous school board approval to open new bank accounts with TD Bank has Lehighton Area School District’s administration recommending doing a formal request for proposals for bank services.
Lehighton’s board unanimously approved opening the bank accounts in November 2018, when former district business administrator Brian Feick told finance committee members the district would generate between $120,000 and $150,000 per year more in interest than what it was bringing in by using Mauch Chunk Trust Company.
The bank accounts, however, were never opened and, on Monday, current business administrator Patricia Denicola said she could not find any written proposal from TD Bank indicating how the promised savings would be reached.
“There are no records here to show that, and that is why we’re recommending doing an official request for proposals and give all area banks the opportunity to show us how they could potentially save us money,” Denicola said. “TD Bank was given three months worth of bank statements and, in my opinion, that isn’t enough data to create a fee proposal.”
Director David Bradley questioned why the bank accounts were not opened after the board authorized the action in November. According to Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver, the district’s business office put out a timeline shortly after the approval that indicated the transition in banks would take place between January and March.
“I was not aware the timeline that was created was not taking place,” Cleaver said. “The business office never came to us with any concerns as to why it wouldn’t be happening.”
Feick left Lehighton to become business administrator at Schuylkill Valley School District in March, when he was replaced by Denicola. Bradley questioned Denicola on Monday as to whether anyone at TD Bank had reached out to her as to why the transition from Mauch Chunk had not taken place.
“To my knowledge, nobody has reached out to me,” she said. “I was not here when this happened. I am trying to clean it up now. You’re targeting me when I’m trying to move the district forward.”
According to finance committee meeting minutes from November, director Rita Spinelli said at the time that she supported the move to TD Bank for cost saving purposes.
“We all agreed at the time based on the facts we were given from Mr. Feick,” Spinelli said Monday. “Since then, we have found out that not all of those facts were correct.”
District resident Barbara Bowes said she recalled the discussion when TD Bank visited the district’s finance committee meeting in the fall.
“I think one of the reasons they were being considered was their security enhancements,” Bowes said.
In 2018, Lehighton dealt with a fraud situation when people from around the country were creating what looked like district payroll checks and taking them to check cashing places. The scheme was uncovered and the district was made whole, according to district officials.
At the time of the board’s approval to open the new accounts, TD Bank officials told the district that the interest it would earn would offset the fees charged by the bank. Denicola said that Lehighton doesn’t currently pay any fees with Mauch Chunk.
“We’re looking to clear this up by doing an RFP so they, and any other bank who responds, can put in writing exactly what savings it can offer to the district and we can hold them accountable,” she said. “We need a way to verify the numbers we are being promised.”
The recommendation for a request for proposals will now go before the full school board. The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 26.