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Reading School District millions short after accounting error; payroll may be in jeopardy

By 69 News, follow: @69news, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 30 2013 01:14:48 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 05 2013 12:27:13 PM CST

An auditing error has left the Reading School District millions of dollars short in its current budget, state officials told 69 News on Friday.

READING, Pa. -

An accounting error has left the Reading School District millions of dollars short in its current budget, state officials told 69 News on Friday.

The $15.6 million shortfall in the $220 million budget may mean the district won't be able to make its payroll payment in March, leaving thousands of employees without a paycheck, said the state officials, adding that the money problems might be enough to propel the district into the state's Act 141 recovery program.

"We will do everything in our power to make sure that we allow our teachers to be able to come into work to teach our students because our students deserve to learn," said Bryan Sanguinito, union president.

School board members told 69 News on Friday that the district will have no trouble meeting its payroll.

"No one should conclude that the money is missing," said Robert Heebner Jr., school board president. "We will make payroll. Let me underline that, we will make payroll."

School board members said the confusion stems from the district's discovery of an accounting error made in 2010, which overstated the district's revenue by $15.6 million. They said it will take some time to fix the error, but they insisted everyone will be paid.

The school board will hold a special meeting on Monday to address the budget shortfall. That meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the 3rd floor boardroom of the administration building at North 8th and Washington streets.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education is aware of the school district's situation and has offered technical assistance, said Tim Eller, press secretary.

Members of Berks County's delegation of state lawmakers have also asked for Pennsylvania's auditor general to become involved.

Pa. Sen. Judy Schwank, Rep. Tom Caltagirone and Rep. Mark Rozzi, all Democrats representing all or part of Reading in Harrisburg, sent a letter Friday to Eugene DePasquale, the state's auditor general-elect, expressing their concerns about the district's latest budget.

"It is clear that substantive action must be taken by an outside, independent, and objective source to drill down and lay bare the machinations that have put the Reading School District in this untenable and unacceptable position," the lawmakers said.

The Reading School District was already dealing with a $40 million gap in its budget, which it had addressed by closing five schools, eliminating more than 100 teaching positions and raising taxes. Forty teachers later got their jobs back due to efforts by the Reading Education Association, the teachers' union.

The district's pre-kindergarten program was also on the chopping block in the current budget, but that program was saved this school year thanks to $3.7 million from the state.