The report was issued by the office of state Comptroller...

The report was issued by the office of state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.  Credit: Jeff Bachner

Longwood schools may have overspent in overtime payments to some employees because the district lacked a written policy to require documented preapproval for overtime hours, a state audit found.

Auditors said the district paid $774,499 in overtime to noninstructional employees during a 20-month period, from July 2018 to February 2020, according to a report issued Friday by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office, which serves as a fiscal watchdog to the operations of local school districts.

In its probe, auditors said they reviewed a sample of overtime payments to 16 employees during June and November 2019 and found more than half of the overtime hours "lacked proper approval or adequate support." The employees audited included workers in maintenance, custodial, groundskeeping, security and technology support, as well as aides.

While the report did not estimate overtime overspending, it listed examples where overtime might have been avoided or reduced.

"Without documented preapproval, there is an increased risk that overtime costs were more than necessary," auditors wrote. "Written preapproval provides documentation that overtime could not be avoided."

The report recommended the district require nonemergency overtime and compensatory time be authorized beforehand in writing, instead of verbal approval as was practiced in the district.

"Without documentation, management cannot be certain all overtime is preapproved," auditors wrote.

School officials acknowledged room for improvement in its documentation but disputed some of the state’s findings in a Nov. 22 letter included in the report.

Board president Rhonda Stitham wrote the schools disagreed that "any of our overtime is unnecessary."

"All overtime is preapproved, but is not necessarily in writing," she wrote, noting the district also disagreed that having preapprovals in writing would reduce the risk of unnecessary overtime. "Whether the district has a ‘written’ preapproval does not negate the need for the work that was completed during the audit period."

Stitham said the district will submit a corrective action plan and seek advice from its counsel on the state’s recommendation to adopt a payroll policy to set guidelines for overtime approval and documentation.

State monitors noted in response that the report does not state the overtime was unnecessary but that it might have been reduced.

School officials declined to be interviewed Tuesday, but in a statement said the district appreciates the comptroller's acknowledgment that the schools have "documented procedures in place for authorization prior to making payments for all overtime ... ."

The auditors noted that the district’s authorization prior to making overtime payments takes place after the overtime is worked, and does not address the need to authorize overtime before it occurs.

The 9,260-student district in Brookhaven Town employed 1,299 workers during the 2019-20 school term. The district budget for that year was $255 million, which has been increased to $263 million for 2021-22.

The comptroller’s office said both overtime and comp time should only be incurred when circumstances arise and cannot be avoided.

The state also found some of the overtime went to pay employees to perform routine job duties or work during planned school activities.

"While emergency overtime can be difficult to anticipate, nonemergency overtime, worked primarily for planned events and substitutions, may be avoided or reduced with adequate planning and scheduling," auditors wrote.

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