Auditor: Education Department overlooked troubled schools

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Pennsylvania’s fiscal watchdog says the state Department of Education has failed students and taxpayers by overlooking hundreds of academically challenged schools.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his audit identified 814 academically challenged schools based on performance scores for 2013-14. He said of those schools, 561 received no substantial assistance to improve academic performance.

DePasquale added that the State Board of Education, which is required to set statewide education policy every five years, has failed to update the master plan for basic education since 1999.

The auditor general was especially critical of the Education Department for using retired employees to fill critical positions. Without naming names, he said the department failed to monitor a “special advisor for higher education” despite paying him a cabinet-level salary.

Former Education Secretary Ron Tomalis collected a salary of nearly $140,000 plus benefits during his 15 months as the department’s special assistant to the governor in 2013 and 2014. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette requested Tomalis’s calendar, phone calls and emails for a year and found weeks of little or no activity.

“While there is evidence the special advisor for higher education showed up for work, there are virtually no work products or emails, with the exception of a budget memo he wrote – the content of which was never used in the final budget presentation,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale said the Education Department also used at least four annuitants – retired state employees who return to work on a short-term basis – to fill administrative positions. He said the department failed to keep tabs on those employees to make sure they didn’t work more than the 95 days a year allowed by law.

He said at least one annuitant violated the 95-day rule in two years.

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