Penns Manor Area School District’s low standardized test scores and its dependence upon state subsidies have caught the attention of the auditor general’s office, which has placed the district at the head of the line for review through a new type of audit.
That the district is to be audited is hardly extraordinary — the auditor general’s office regularly reviews school districts. But what sets this apart is that the auditors are making it a priority to look at Penns Manor through the lens of an expanded performance audit.
Aside from checking into the usual matters, such as the health of fund balances and compliance with subsidy regulations, the expanded audit also will try to take into account the effect of state educational spending on academic achievement, said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
DePasquale, a Democrat, said that with less state support available to school districts, his office wants to see how districts are faring in teaching Pennsylvania students.
Penns Manor, along with the Pittsburgh City Schools, the Easton Area School District and the Harrisburg School District, are in what DePasquale’s office is calling the first wave of the expanded audits.
He said that as his office has fewer resources to work with these days, it is trying to be more efficient in how it deploys those resources. So, he said, it has prioritized the audits, ranking them as low, medium and high, based on school districts’ academic performance, state funding levels and previous audit results.
At Penns Manor, standardized test scores have been less than stellar, with roughly one-third of students scoring below proficiency levels in reading and math. And about 71 percent of its revenue comes from state support.
Geography is playing a role, too, in prioritizing the audits. If Penns Manor was somewhere else, it may not have been given the precedence that it is getting here, DePasquale said.
However, his staff was careful to say that the audit should not be taken as a sign that something is severely amiss at Penns Manor.
“This does not mean or imply that the district is one of the worst schools,” said spokeswoman Susan Woods.
Penns Manor can also take solace in knowing that it is not alone. DePasquale said 20 percent to 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts are considered high priorities.
News of the audit came by way of a news conference Monday in Pittsburgh, where DePasquale announced the office would undertake a yearlong review of the city’s school district.
In speaking to reporters, DePasquale let it slip that Penns Manor had been deemed a high priority.
Word came ahead of his office giving formal notification to Penns Manor, and Interim Superintendent Daren Johnston said he’s not sure what exactly the auditors are after. So he couldn’t offer much comment, at least not yet, he said.
Johnston questioned how auditors would be able to offer educational recommendations, but he said the district would welcome any advice.