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Fiscal monitor named for financially challenged Wyandanch school district

Albert Chase, seen here at his home in

Albert Chase, seen here at his home in Valley Stream on Friday, has been named the state's fiscal monitor for the Wyandanch school district Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Albert Chase, a veteran Long Island school business manager, has been named the state’s fiscal monitor for the Wyandanch district as it struggles to overcome past budget deficits as well as new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Albany officials announced Thursday.

Chase, whose task will include helping the 2,800-student Wyandanch system plan its fiscal recovery, will step into his job May 1, state officials said. Chase brings 40 years’ experience in managing school operations to Wyandanch, and formerly served as an interim business official in Long Beach and Island Park.

Chase’s appointment, announced by Betty Rosa, chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents, represents the latest in a long series of efforts by Albany to bring financial and academic reform to low-performing systems.

“I’m glad to see that happen,” said State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), a chief sponsor of legislation establishing the new monitor position. “Given the crisis we’re in now, having this monitor in place is going to be a blessing, I think.”

Wyandanch is the poorest district on Long Island in terms of taxable income and property wealth, and is operating on a bare-bones “contingency” budget, due to local voters’ refusal in May 2019 to approve a budget carrying a 20% tax hike.

The district on March 5 held a public forum where residents were invited to share their thoughts on which staff positions and programs recently cut should be restored during the 2020-21 school year. Reductions included 25 teachers, 46 teacher assistants and 13 security guards, the district said.

Restoration could be funded through a tax-cap override, Wyandanch officials said at the time. Budget information presented to residents showed a range of possible tax increases under consideration, from 1.81% on the low end to 15.81% on the high.

Wyandanch’s cap limit would be 1.1%, according to data from the state Comptroller’s Office, unless a “supermajority” amounting to at least 60% of voters approved a higher amount. Deodat Somaiah, the district’s business official, told Newsday at the time that the tax hike chosen probably would not go higher than 9.81%.

At a board meeting Wednesday, Somaiah noted that Wyandanch was among only a few districts due to receive less state financial assistance during the 2020-21 school year than the previous year. That’s under a statewide package approved earlier this month by the State Legislature, which is subject to potential cuts if state and federal revenue drop below anticipated levels.

“That’s not something in our favor, for sure,” Somaiah told the board. He later told Newsday that a final district budget proposal for local voters might be cobbled together by mid-May. This year’s school votes have been moved from May to June, due to pandemic disruptions.

In February, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a measure authorizing the state’s appointment of monitors to oversee fiscal operations in both Wyandanch and Hempstead. The state’s interim education commissioner, Shannon Tahoe, was authorized to name a monitor in Hempstead, but has not yet indicated when that will happen.

A representative of the state Education Department said Thursday that the agency was still identifying candidates for the Hempstead watchdog post. Brooks said the monitor legislation included $87,500 per district to help pay expenses, but precise salaries have not yet been announced.

The financial outlook for Wyandanch, as for other districts, is clouded by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuomo earlier this week indicated that he might have to reduce the state’s aid to districts by as much as 20% next year, if federal authorities do not provide enough money to New York to compensate for revenue losses caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

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