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Long IslandEducation

State audit criticizes Quogue school district’s budgeting

Comptroller’s report says the system exceeded the 4 percent state limit on its unrestricted reserve fund in each of the five years examined.

The state comptroller’s office has criticized the Quogue school district for exceeding the 4 percent annual state limit that governs its unrestricted reserve fund, saying the system routinely surpassed that ceiling during a five-year span.

State auditors wrote that Quogue’s unrestricted fund balance was above the statutory limit from the 2012-13 through the 2016-17 school years, with amounts that ranged from 19 percent to 33 percent.

The tiny East End district, with an enrollment of about 110 students, has a current budget of about $8 million. The audit, released this week, examined the district’s budgeting practices from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2017.

Districts typically use their unrestricted reserve fund to pay for unforeseen expenses. The 4 percent limit applies to the operating budget of the ensuing year.

In Quogue, auditors found the unrestricted fund balance in 2016-17 was $2.96 million — nearly 37 percent of the ensuing year’s operating budget.

The report is the 27th from the comptroller’s office in recent years on individual Long Island districts to criticize budgetary management of unrestricted reserve funds.

Auditors also wrote that the district overestimated spending by an average of about $795,000 for each of the years reviewed.

The district should “ensure that the amount of unrestricted fund balance is in compliance with the statutory limit and develop a plan to use surplus funds as a financing source” to reduce property taxes and fund one-time expenditures and necessary reserves, the report said.

Auditors also recommended that Quogue conduct an annual review of its reserve funds “to determine whether the amounts reserved are necessary and reasonable” and are in accordance with state law.

They said the district should adopt a “written reserve fund policy” that defines optimal funding levels for its reserve accounts.

The audit notes that Superintendent Jeffrey Ryvicker started with Quogue in the 2016-17 school year and stated “that no one is left of the prior administration, but it appears that budgets were increased by a flat percentage each year without considering the actual expenditures incurred.”

Ryvicker, in a written response to the state, said the district is adopting corrective measures. He said officials would seek the voters’ approval to use the unrestricted reserve to pay for needs in the district’s five-year facilities plan.

The superintendent also wrote that, in response to concerns, officials would review data associated with teachers’ salaries, special education programs, transportation and tuition for students and central services.

The corrective action plan is “to systematically review and correct these budget appropriations as needed on an annual basis,” Ryvicker wrote.

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