The audit was released Wednesday by the office of state...

The audit was released Wednesday by the office of state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Western Suffolk BOCES paid more than $120,000 in overtime to clerical workers without written preapproval of the extra work, the state Comptroller's Office reported Wednesday.

In response, llene Herz, president of the regional BOCES board, stated that supervisors had approved overtime verbally rather than in writing. Herz added in a message to Newsday later that her agency had always reviewed and confirmed overtime prior to payment.

As a fiscal watchdog agency, the comptroller's office conducts periodic audits of educational systems, municipalities and other local government units. Western Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, paid a total of $519,845 in overtime to 74 clerical employees during the period audited by the state, according to the comptroller's office. 

State auditors reviewed $123,276 in overtime paid to 17 employees between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2023. Some key findings from their inquiry: 

  • While all overtime hours were summarized on a manual payroll report, there was no record confirming that any of the overtime was preapproved. 
  • There was no explanation of the need for overtime totaling $72,218 for 13 employees. These payments constituted 59% of the workers' overtime reviewed in the audit.  
  • Supporting documentation such as timekeeping records were not available for $19,932 in overtime paid to 13 employees.

The comptroller's report noted that records of overtime, when properly maintained and reviewed, could help save money. 

"When the events that cause overtime are analyzed, management may be able to take alternative action without using overtime, such as adjusting schedules or staffing," the report stated. 

State auditors acknowledged that BOCES officials disagreed with some of their findings but added that those officials indicated they would comply with the state's recommendations for improvement.

BOCES authorities said they supported the state's suggestions for strengthening financial controls but wanted it to be understood that the audit was conducted in large part during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was disrupting operations and requiring greater use of overtime pay. 

"During this time, it was extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, to hire, onboard and train clerical employees," Herz wrote. "In other words, in the vast majority of cases, the overtime that was incurred during the audit period, despite the amount, was necessary and could not be avoided." 

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