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Hempstead school board votes to seek state comptroller help

Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson is seated

Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson is seated during a special meeting on the financial health of the Hempstead School District on Monday, Aug. 3, 2015 at Hempstead High School. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school board Monday night voted to seek the state comptroller's help in how to pay down a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, about $2 million of which officials said is tied to increased enrollment in local charter schools.

Those payouts rose from about $15 million in the 2013-14 school year to $17 million last year, said Gerard Antoine, the district's superintendent for business and operations.

He attributed the hike to the increased number of children attending the charter schools, a rise from 850 to about 1,000 last year.

Antoine also said the district's financial records are in disarray. Several of its 16 bank accounts have not been updated for several months, some dating back to last year, he said.

Two charter schools serve local students: Academy Charter School, with 750 students in kindergarten through seventh grade last year, and Evergreen Academy, with 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade in 2014-15. Academy last year added the seventh grade.

John P. Sheahan, a lawyer with Guercio and Guercio, the firm recently hired by the district, said Hempstead could use $1.9 million in unrestricted funds to help bridge the deficit.

Sheahan said those monies can be used without voter approval for unanticipated expenses such as increased enrollment or additional teachers.

The district also has reserve funds earmarked for certain uses. But the district does not know whether it can tap into a reserve fund to close the deficit, officials said. Enrollment districtwide increased by about 1,500 students last school year with a majority in need of English language services, Hempstead officials have said.

Many of those children came into the United States illegally from Central America as unaccompanied minors.

District officials said the comptroller also will help the district determine whether it could issue bonds to pay the debt, which would require state legislative action.

The special meeting, which started at 4 p.m., centered on the district's financial troubles and sloppy bookkeeping. Antoine estimated the deficit at $6.5 million but cautioned it was an unofficial figure.

"That is my number," he said. "It has not been certified with the auditors."

Board president Lamont Johnson said Antoine should have done a better job at forecasting the charter school enrollment figures.

School board members asked for a detailed, line by line accounting of the deficit.

Antoine requested an additional day to deliver the figures.

Board member Ricky Cooke said it was critical that the board have correct and complete information to make important decisions for local taxpayers.

"I've got a real serious problem with the mess that we are in," he said.

Board member Maribel Touré told Antoine he should have informed the board that the district's books were not being properly maintained.


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