Controversy surrounding alleged misuse of a district credit card has burdened the Jim Thorpe School District for over a year.
Concerns of residents led the school board to order a forensic review of the card. It looked at ten years of credit card use, from 2008 to 2018.
The card was in the name of the district's former business manager, Lauren Kovac. She resigned in November after being put on paid leave amid the investigation.
The review did confirm some misuse of the card. School officials tells News 13 having it done was ultimately the right call.
"We have to have the confidence of Jim Thorpe area taxpayers. They pay taxes, they pay hard-earned money and we need to ensure that tax money is going to things that are appropriate," said district superintendent, John Rushefski.
As superintendent, Rushefski is focused on transparency. He started his tenure in the district this past summer, in the midst of an investigation into the district's business office.
"I read the articles and checked out the local media outlets in my research of the Jim Thorpe Area School District and the credit card issues were a hot topic," said Rushefski.
The district's credit card has been the center of controversy since residents questioned possible misuse by the former business manager.
A News 13 investigation found thousands of dollars charged to the card had been spent at local restaurants.
"As far as what was going on there, which I wasn't aware of, were all these here little get-togethers," said school board president, Gerald Strubinger.
Strubinger says those "get-togethers" involved Kovac, former superintendent, Brian Gasper, and certain board members.
"There was enough money there to just spend the money and nobody was going to question it, because there was enough money to be spent," said Strubinger.
The board-ordered forensic review confirmed those purchases. It also found Kovac cashed $951.65 in reward points.
"It was $1,000, some people say it's only $1,000. $1,000 is a lot of money. The business manager has to be the check and the balance on that. Whatever money's being spent, that business manager has to make the board aware it's being spent," said Strubinger.
The district no longer uses a credit card. Instead, the superintendent and interim business manager have their names on a single debit card which is locked away when not in use. The card doesn't allow for cash rewards.
"There's an account that cannot be exceeded of $500 per day and that's a debit card. So essentially, it's coming out of our budget," said Rushefski.
Rushefski is also looking into a program called EasyProcure if the district opts to switch back to a credit card in the future.
"With things like credit card points and rewards and so forth, it's designed for school districts and those points and rewards would essentially go back into the general fund," said Rushefski.
Kovac also served as treasurer of the varsity girls' basketball booster club. The review looked at the club's district-funded account but found no evidence of money being misspent.
"We're trying to be fair with all sports, male or female, and trying to treat everyone the same so there's not a situation where one sport or one group gets more than others," said Rushefski.
Overall, the firm makes several recommendations to the district. It suggests requiring documentation for future meetings involving meals, including who attended and the purpose of the meeting.
There are also recommendations made about the handling of reimbursements for booster organizations.
"We're trying to be fair, we're trying to be fiscally responsible, there's a right way to do this and we're looking to do it the right way. There's more recommendations to come but we've certainly taken fairness and equity as a position moving forward," said Rushefski.
The district also ordered an additional review which is looking into practices of its business office as a whole.
The superintendent expects those results by February 1st and plans to be transparent with the public about the findings.