Public not likely to see JT reports
Jim Thorpe Area School District’s investigations into its administrators and business office have cost more than $15,000.
But despite footing the bill for the reviews, residents still haven’t seen the results of one completed investigation.
“The board would like to release that forensic review, however it is under an active investigation at this time,” board president Pearl Downs-Sheckler said last month. They are also unlikely to see the second one, which is still ongoing. Last month, the school board hired a law firm and an accounting firm to assist the district with an investigation reviewing the performance of Business Manager Lauren Kovac, and the procedures and processes in the business office.
The board placed Kovac on paid leave while the investigation is completed.
The investigation is being done in accordance with Kovac’s contract, which was signed in 2016. The contract states that the board and business manager cannot disclose publicly that an investigation is underway.
It says that “any investigations shall be completed in private without any public disclosure by the board or the business manager of the commencement or progress of the same.”
The contract says that the board must notify the business manager by certified mail that an investigation is taking place, which they did at their meeting in September. It says the business manager will be granted access to any documents or reports generated from the investigation, and granted the opportunity to respond to any documents, findings or conclusions.
It states that the board is not obligated to share its attorney-client privilege or work product information following the investigation.
An accounting firm and a legal firm from the Philadelphia area have been hired to work on the district’s investigation.
The board last month agreed to pay accounting firm Eisner Amper $5,000 to assist with the investigation. The board is slated to vote tonight on an engagement letter with Eisner Amper which will outline the services more specifically.
Levin Legal group’s services will cost the district between $180-$200 per hour.
The forensic review into potential credit card misuse, which the board received in August, cost the district over $10,000.
Last November, the board paid Brown Schultz Sheridan and Fritz a $5,000 retainer. In April, the firm requested another $5,000 retainer, which the board paid. In June, the firm sent an invoice for $1,200, which the board paid. In July, the firm sent a final invoice for $4,330. The board declined to pay that invoice at its meetings in August and September.
The district denied a request from the Times News to release that report. In the denial, it said the report was not subject to the state’s right to know law, contained protected employee information, is related to an ongoing investigation among other reasons.
The school board president has maintained that she wants the forensic review released, but recently said it can’t be made public while the matter is under active investigation.
Downs-Sheckler had said in May that she felt the review should be made public because it was funded with taxpayer money. In September, she addressed the issue.
“If it would be at all possible, the day we had it, you would have had it, but we need to go further and we need to look into things, so I ask for your patience,” Downs-Sheckler said.
The district has now retained an interim business manager who will oversee the business office while the investigation is completed. Joseph Surridge formerly served as business manager in Riverside School District near Scranton. The board will vote tonight to approve a contract with the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials for $62.50 per hour for Surridge’s services, retroactive to Sept. 25.
For about two weeks following Kovac’s suspension, the superintendent and business office staff stepped in to run the business office. Downs-Sheckler praised them for keeping the office functioning without a business manager.
“Everyone got paid, the lights are still on, things are getting done,” she said.
The board will meet at 7 tonight in the district office, 410 Center Ave., Jim Thorpe.