Wyandanch school board president James Crawford, center, speaks with community...

Wyandanch school board president James Crawford, center, speaks with community members Thursday night. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Wyandanch school leaders took a first step toward reducing a budget deficit Thursday night by agreeing to cut staff positions and other expenses they estimated would save the district more than $1.2 million.

The district's total deficit has been pegged at $3.3 million, and local officials have cautioned that further cuts — or possibly a hefty tax hike — could be required in the 2019-20 school year. 

Officials said that about 18 jobs would be affected in the current 2018-19 year, either by elimination or by arranging to have those positions paid through grant money rather than the district's operating budget. Many of the posts are currently unfilled, meaning that reductions should result in few actual layoffs. 

Two teachers' positions are among those being pared, but officials said that would have no effect on present class sizes, because the slots have been vacant since the beginning of the academic year. 

All the economy moves came in a flurry of school board votes held after 9 p.m., when trustees emerged from their second closed-door debate of the night. By then, most anxious residents and school workers who showed up three hours earlier in an effort to learn the district's intent had gone home. 

"It's a step in the right direction," said Superintendent Mary Jones, who proposed most of the reductions in consultation with trustees. She added that the cuts would not reverse what she described as the district's upward academic trajectory. 

Earlier in the evening, Wyandanch’s board appointed a former Bellmore schools business official to help the district for several days in assessing its overall financial position. Local officials said the move had been arranged by Western Suffolk BOCES, which is advising the district on behalf of the state Education Department. 

Residents at a Nov. 14 meeting of the Wyandanch school...

Residents at a Nov. 14 meeting of the Wyandanch school board listen as external auditor Marianne Van Duyne talks about the district's financial costs and shortfall. Credit: Newsday /Howard Simmons

The temporary appointment of Richard Daddio, a former assistant superintendent for business in the Bellmore school district, was on a 6-0 vote. One board member, Ronald Fenwick, was absent.

Daddio will serve as an unpaid consultant next week, district officials said.

Last year, Daddio provided a budget workshop for Wyandanch board members on behalf of the New York State School Boards Association, local officials said.

Wyandanch's seven-member board faces a directive from the state Education Department to come up with a plan for dealing with its financial troubles by next month. Pressures on the panelists were obvious Thursday, as they shifted back and forth between private and public sessions.

Some residents who attended the early part of the meeting complained that district leaders were not taking enough time to explain their decisions, including Daddio's appointment.

"They should do a better job of explaining who he is and informing us of his track record," said Jarod Morris, a community activist. 

The budget hole reflects deeper problems in Wyandanch, the poorest district in Suffolk County in terms of taxable real estate and family incomes. Eighty-seven percent of the system’s 2,800 students are economically disadvantaged, according to the state’s latest statistics.

Last month, district officials announced that the deficit, originally estimated at $1.3 million, had ballooned to $3.3 million. An outside auditor hired by the system said much of it was created by more than $1.2 million in overspending.

Wyandanch’s budget totals $71.3 million for the current 2018-19 school year.

Jones proposed at the time that the district take preliminary steps to save money, and she laid out options including layoffs of nonteaching personnel, such as security, maintenance and clerical workers. 

On Dec. 7, Jhone Ebert, the state’s senior deputy commissioner for education policy, sent a letter to board president James Crawford, directing the board to report back within 45 days on its plans to resolve the deficit issue.

Ebert, in her letter, said she had “serious concerns” about Wyandanch’s fiscal condition, especially because the district has a history of economic issues and has been formally rated by the state since 2012-13 as being in “fiscal stress.”

Ebert also offered the help of Western Suffolk BOCES leaders in working with Wyandanch to develop and carry out a “sound financial plan.” BOCES administrators, in addition to running their own education programs, serve as regional troubleshooters for the state.

Wyandanch board trustees met for about 90 minutes on Dec. 12 in a private session with the two highest-ranking BOCES administrators, chief operating officer Michael Flynn and Superintendent Angelique Johnson-Dingle.

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