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NYS comptroller plans audit of Hempstead school district

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli speaks

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli speaks during the swearing-in ceremony of Nassau County's legislature on Jan. 9, 2018. Credit: Johnny Milano

ALBANY — The state comptroller’s office plans to dispatch an audit team to check the books of the struggling Hempstead school district, an agency spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

Officials of the 8,000-student system were informed in August of the planned financial review, said Brian Butry, spokesman for Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state’s chief fiscal watchdog. He did not know when the auditors plan to begin the examination, he said.

Regina Armstrong, the district’s acting superintendent, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

The comptroller’s office in December 2014 released a scathing 51-page report that pinpointed numerous flaws in the district’s financial operations and handling of its budget.

The audit — which covered from July 1, 2011 through March 31, 2013 — is posted on the state comptroller’s website.

“We highlighted a lot of systemic problems in the district that were never addressed,” Butry said of that audit.

Included in the 2014 audit report, as is customary, is district officials’ response. They wrote then that new practices were being implemented, new policies were being adopted and staff changes were being made to address the issues the comptroller’s office had raised.

The upcoming comptroller’s examination is the latest in a series of interventions aimed at dealing with academic, financial and political problems in Long Island’s lowest-performing school district.

Other interventions include state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s appointment last fall of Jack Bierwirth, a former Herricks school superintendent, as a special adviser to the district — a post known as Distinguished Educator.

Bierwirth, in a report released Jan. 8, pointed to the state comptroller’s 2014 audit report as an illustration that issues facing the district “are longstanding and systemic, and that past Corrective Action Plans have been inadequately implemented, if at all.”

“The current financial situation in the District is a result of chronic mismanagement,” Bierwirth wrote in a section on budget and fiscal operations, noting that Hempstead has had 20 different assistant superintendents for business in the past 21 years.

He also said the district had hired Plante Moran, “the highly respected firm which conducted the forensic audit of the Detroit Public Schools,” to audit its own books. Bierwirth wrote that he had requested updates and information regarding that forensic audit’s progress, but none had been provided.

“This needs to be completed in an unpolitical and untarnished manner so that a) any corruption that is uncovered can be prosecuted, and b) the cloud can be lifted from those found to be competent and trustworthy,” the special adviser wrote in his report.

The Hempstead school board, at a Jan. 17 meeting, unanimously accepted the recommendations in Bierwirth’s report and directed Armstrong to prepare a plan putting those into action by the panel’s Feb. 1 work session. Elia has given the board a Feb. 2 deadline to submit a response plan to her.

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