It’s been five years since the television show The Office ended, and Scranton is making headlines again. No, not because Michael Scott had an insensitive diversity training, nor because Ryan Howard burned a cheesy pita in the break room. The Scranton School District is in hot water for corruption, negligence, and misuse of public funds. The Auditor General has said, “If I had the authority, I would dissolve this board.”
The problems came to light in 2017 when Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a blistering 107-page report detailing the failures of the school board. As the character Ryan might say, “I've read some of it. Even for the Internet, it's… pretty shocking.”
The report revealed that “chronic operating deficits and a negative general fund balance led the district to incur unsustainable amounts of debt.” DePasquale described it as “by far the worst debt situation of any school district in the state.” It’s not hard to see why.
- The school board gave a no-bid contract for their transportation needs to DeNaples Transportation, costing the district $26 million from 2007 through 2016. A lack of proper oversight resulted in a 59 percent increase in the contracted rate over those 10 years. “That’s a real windfall for the bus contractor, but it is a drain on the district’s taxpayers,” noted DePasquale.
- The district did not provide sufficient oversight of IT equipment inventory, increasing the chance of theft, loss, and misuse.
- The audit found gross financial mismanagement regarding a non-employee mechanic who worked for the district. Dan Sansky, the district’s fleet manager for 12 years, is now facing charges. Sansky was arrested by the FBI and is charged with “corrupt organizations, dealing in unlawful proceeds and criminal conspiracy.” Sansky also gave out free vehicle repairs to district employees and was given health benefits from the school district. It is estimated Sansky’s misdeeds have cost the district $1 million dollars.
On January 17, the state put the district in financial recovery status, which means a full-time chief recovery officer will be appointed to help get the school on track. If the board is unable to manage the budget, the state may be forced to take over the situation completely.
Unfortunately, local families have few options to escape the corruption-plagued district.
Pennsylvania’s two tax credit programs, EITC (Education Improvement Tax Credit) and OSTC (Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit), have helped thousands of parents throughout the state choose the best school for their children. However, too many are turned away. Due to limits on scholarship tax credits, only 48 percent of last year’s applications were granted a scholarship.
In the “Scott’s Tots” episode of The Office, Michael failed to deliver on a promise he made to a classroom of kids who were working towards a bright educational future. Like many moments on the show, it’s painful to watch him admit he couldn’t fulfill his promise and the futures they hoped for were in jeopardy.
It’s not hard to imagine that similar pain in a family rejected for an EITC or OSTC scholarship based on program limits. These programs give kids the chance to thrive in their classrooms and beyond. The most immediate, transformative way to help families in Scranton and throughout Pennsylvania is to raise the limits on Pennsylvania’s existing tax credit scholarship programs.