Exterior of Commack High School on Nov. 11, 2010.

Exterior of Commack High School on Nov. 11, 2010. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A Commack school board trustee said he still may resign despite a recent state comptroller's audit that he said "vindicated" his claims that the district was using problematic budget practices and misleading the public.

An audit released last week by the comptroller's office said the district was overbudgeting and underspending, and circumventing the state's limit on its unrestricted fund balance. Trustee James Tampellini, who had made similar charges about the district's practices, said he was hopeful the findings would spark a change in Commack.

But after low turnout at a district meeting Thursday, where the rest of the board defended past budgets as sound, Tampellini said he is still weighing resignation. About 15 people attended the meeting, where board officials described a "philosophical difference" with the state comptroller's office. Tampellini first said he was considering stepping down in April.

"I'm a little disgusted not only at the district's response and the way they've handled this; I'm very disappointed the community hasn't come out and shown they're upset," Tampellini said Monday.

From the 2011 through 2014 school years, the district cumulatively budgeted $24.8 million more than it actually spent, according to the state audit.

"Had district officials used more realistic budget estimates, they could have avoided the accumulation of excess fund balance and possibly reduced the real property tax levy," the report added.

The board issued a statement Sunday in response to the audit, saying the district "returns every dollar not spent in the budget to the taxpayers to keep the tax levy as low as possible."

At the meeting, Tampellini called for the resignation of the rest of the board, but without a second the motion died. Tampellini has been critical of the district since before he was elected to the board in 2013.

"This sense of demonization of the board. . . . It is very disheartening," trustee Mary Jo Masciello said at the meeting. "I would like to make it very clear that as a board . . . we do not disregard, we do not circumvent and at this point we will take very seriously what is being brought to our attention."

Board members and the superintendent declined to comment further Tuesday.

District officials challenged the comptroller's findings and noted tax increases have been below the cap every year since it was instituted.

"The district's budgeting practices have led to an unprecedented increase in programs, extracurricular activities and student-to-teacher ratios coupled with historically low tax increases," board member Jarrett Behar said at the meeting.

The district has 90 days after receiving the report to issue a corrective action plan to the comptroller.

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