Grand Jury Report Does Not Recommend Charges For Penn Hills School District Debt

Report recommends legislative action within the district

Shelby Cassesse
February 05, 2019 - 3:49 pm

PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - A grand jury report found the Penn Hills School District to be in catastrophic financial condition, but did not recommend criminal charges.

The 75-page report blamed the district's $172 million in debt on poor leadership and bad decision-making, but feels the best course of action is legislative changes within the district. 

A 2016 audit by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale cited possible criminal and tax violations, prompting the grand jury investigation. The audit featured controversy surrounding former business manager Richard Liberto, who was fired in 2015 after a bus contractor was accused of stealing over $260,000 of district fuel.

Penn Hills school board president Erin Vecchio tells KDKA Radio that the kids in the district will suffer as a result and criminal charges would have helped the district pay off its debt.

"We have no option to go after anybody," she said. "We could have went after our insurance companies for the theft to get money back. We have no options now. None."

The debt began to build at an alarming rate after the school district approved plans to build a new high school and new elementary school within the last decade. According to the grand jury report, the architect hired for the job used high-end materials and drove up the costs for the project.

Vecchio says the schools standing now are different than the ones the architect originally presented.

"That architect totally turned around in 2010 and designed different schools than what she showed us in 2009. So, she should have been accountable for that."

The Pennsylvania Department of Education placed the district into financial recovery status last month, which means a chief recovery officer will be placed in the district.