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State comptroller: Hempstead charter school paid out $1.9M without proper approval

A student writes out a math problem on

A student writes out a math problem on a chalkboard. Credit: iStock

A popular Hempstead charter school paid out $1.9 million to cover management fees and other claims without proper approval from its 10-member board of trustees, the state comptroller's office reported Wednesday.

In the largest examples listed, state auditors found that trustees of the Academy Charter School in Hempstead Village failed to review or approve $950,631 in fees paid to its management company, and another $193,221 paid to a technology consultant.

Like many charter schools, Academy contracts with a private firm, Victory Education Partners of Manhattan, for management services, including billings. The audit covered a nearly two-year period between July 2012 and May 2014, when the school's enrollment was about 490 students.

"Because the board does not provide adequate oversight of financial activities, it is limited in its ability to ensure that school funds are appropriately spent," auditors said.

Academy officials objected to the state's findings, saying the school's fundraising and finance committees provided adequate oversight of spending.

The school's financial operations also are reviewed by independent private auditors and by analysts in state agencies other than the comptroller's office, the officials said.

Wayne Haughton, the charter school's executive director, said Wednesday in a statement that outside reviews "have always found the Academy's finances to be managed in accordance with state charter school guidelines and strict governmental accounting standards."

"We are closely reviewing the state comptroller's findings and look forward to working with that office to continue our work in running an effective organization that is positively impacting the lives of children," Haughton stated.

Established in 2009, Academy Charter School opened a new middle school in September and reported a waiting list then of about 500 children. Academy also posted the highest state test scores for any of the five charter schools on Long Island.

School officials list a current enrollment of 750 K-7 students.

Charter schools are public and tuition-free, and run by private boards. Funding is based on the number of students they attract. An amendment to state law, approved a year ago, empowers the comptroller's office to audit charter schools, just as it monitors traditional public schools.

An audit of the Eastport-South Manor school district, also released Wednesday, found that two employees -- an assistant business administrator and a purchasing agent -- were granted improper access to the district's financial software system. Auditors found no inappropriate activity by those workers, but warned that such access could have resulted in tampering with payrolls and other sensitive records.

The report covered a 14-month period from July 1, 2013, to Aug. 31, 2014.

District officials said the access granted the two employees was temporary, and in response to the departure of a former technology director. The situation has since been resolved with the hiring of a new director, said officials, who pledged better documentation of procedures for granting access to financial records.

"It's just a simple turnaround that happens in any organization," said Richard Snyder, the district's assistant superintendent for business.

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