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Long IslandEducation

In turnaround, Hempstead school district posts $3.9M surplus

An infusion of state funding helped the Hempstead school district post a $3.9 million general fund surplus in the 2015-16 school year, one year after it had sustained a $15.1 million loss and overspent the taxpayer-approved budget by $8.6 million, external auditors found.

Still, the district was operating with an unassigned net deficit balance of $2.9 million for its general fund, according to external auditors, and district officials vowed to carefully review future spending.

Auditor Michael Nawrocki, of Melville-based Nawrocki Smith LLP, urged the board of education to hire a permanent superintendent of business. The district has hired several short-term consultants after the departure of a permanent superintendent of business earlier in the year.

Hiring a permanent business superintendent “needs to be a priority,” Nawrocki told the board of education at its Thursday night meeting. He likened it to “having a ship without a captain . . . it’s very difficult for a district of this size to operate without a full-time business official.”

Nawrocki said the district, with a $189 million general fund budget, benefited from $10.7 million more in state aid funding last year. Other injections of cash included an increase of $2.1 million because of a settlement with the Long Island Power Authority and state reimbursements under the School Tax Reimbursement Program.

A January report from the New York State comptroller’s office found that Hempstead, with its $15.1 million loss in the 2014-15 school year, was the state’s most “fiscally stressed” district. The state has yet to release fiscal stress figures for the 2015-16 school year.

“It’s been so hard,” school board president Maribel Touré said. “We have to be very, very diligent about watching how the money is being spent.”

The district last year cut legal costs by nearly $1.37 million, and home tutoring costs by $1.297 million, according to auditors. Increased costs included $1.3 million more for judgments and claims against the district, and $2.4 million more to charter schools, auditors said.

“I continue to be nervous for you about cash flow,” Nawrocki told the board. “Whenever you’re operating with an unassigned fund deficit, there’s always concern that it’s adequate cash to get you through the year.”

He encouraged district officials “to continue to monitor cash flow on an ongoing basis.” He added, “if you see any shortfalls, be prepared to be able to generate those particular funds.”

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