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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Wyandanch, Roosevelt library districts are in denial

Wyandanch Public Library at 14 South 20 St.,

Wyandanch Public Library at 14 South 20 St., seen on Nov. 20, 2014. Credit: James Carbone

Remember Roslyn?

Where taxpayers were bilked of at least $11.2 million in school district funds that ended up being used for jewelry, artwork, dry cleaning, a pool cleaner, carpets and other home furnishings, entertainment, food, pet supplies, foreign trips, vitamins and home mortgages?

That scandal was so wide and deep that the state comptroller's office ended up, among other reforms, mandating six hours of training for school board members on their financial oversight responsibilities.

Perhaps it's time to extend that same kind of mandatory training to local library boards.

Recently, the library districts in Roosevelt and Wyandanch have come under the comptroller's scrutiny, as Roslyn did back in 2004.

Results of an audit on Wyandanch -- which turned up missing money and changed time sheets -- have been turned over to the Suffolk district attorney's office for investigation. A separate comptroller's audit of Roosevelt -- where a split library board has been exchanging allegations of mismanagement -- is likely to be released within a few weeks.

The district attorney's office had no comment Monday.Dysfunction at both libraries has caught the attention of the state Education Department, which last week deemed Roosevelt ineligible for $4,632 in 2014 Local Library Services Aid until it hired a director and submitted a required long-range plan and other documents.

The department also is reviewing whether Wyandanch would be eligible for 2014 aid.

Since July, Roosevelt board members repeatedly have clashed over issues including the district's spending more than $9,400 for three members to go to a library conference in Las Vegas, and a decision two years ago to spend more than $11,000 on a baby grand piano.

Some members say the board never approved the piano purchase; others say the purchase was approved but never entered into the board minutes -- all of which ignores the baby grand elephant in the room: Why did the library spend residents' money on the piano in the first place?

In Wyandanch, meanwhile, there's the missing $4,638 -- almost half the cash collected by the library between July 2011 and October 2012.

There's also the fact that the library went five months without depositing money for fines and fees the library charged for faxing and printing into the bank -- with the board never noticing.

And audit findings that a board member adjusted time records that resulted in more pay -- for a family member.

But what should be most troubling for residents in Roosevelt and Wyandanch are attempts by boards in both districts to downplay serious deficiencies.

A Roosevelt board member said he didn't understand why the state disallowed the 2014 aid payment, saying the district already was doing much of what the state wanted. "It must be one of those cases of crossing in the mail," the board member told Newsday.

Um, no. It's a case of a board spending too much time infighting, and not enough time securing a library director or sending the state necessary documents in a timely manner.

As for Wyandanch, the district in a response to the comptroller attributed the missing money to a possible "keystroke error."

It went on from there to challenge assertions from the comptroller -- whose audit also found tens of thousands of dollars in questionable overtime, travel and other expenses -- that the board was not doing its job.

Um, no. Because if the board had been doing its job, members would have noticed five months of reports that included zero cash deposits to the district's bank account.

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