Budget woes in the Wyandanch school district are far more daunting than originally thought, with cash reserves down nearly $3.3 million from original levels, shocked residents were told at a board meeting Wednesday night.
The district’s external auditor, Marianne VanDuyne, told a capacity crowd that “rainy day” reserve funds upon which the system depends to meet emergencies had been exhausted during the 2017-18 school year. This, she said, could force Wyandanch to make deep cuts in personnel expenses in order to rebuild reserves.
“Now there are going to have to be tough decisions,” VanDuyne said.
Angry residents immediately launched a verbal barrage on school board trustees and administrators who mostly sat stoically silent. Several homeowners wondered aloud how high their taxes would rise.
“I want to know where my money is going,” said one audience member, Denise Edwards, who glared at board members as she explained that she had just bought a house locally in March. “If these people here can’t figure it out, then maybe we’ve got to bring in somebody else to figure it out.”
Wyandanch's budget problems became widely recognized in January 2017, when the state comptroller's office reported both the Hempstead and Wyandanch systems faced "significant stress" — the most serious level of financial trouble listed by the state. A more recent report issued by the agency last January raised Wyandanch's financial status to "susceptible to fiscal stress," while removing Hempstead from the statewide list altogether.
Immediately following release of the 2017 report, Wyandanch Superintendent Mary Jones said her district had been forced to go over budget to buy portable classrooms to help accommodate immigrants arriving from Central America. More recently, the district also rented a vacant school in Dix Hills to house an overflow of children enrolled in preschool programs and kindergarten.
According to the latest state records, Wyandanch enrolls about 2,500 students, 50 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino and 48 percent black or African-American. Eighty-seven percent of the district's students are categorized as economically disadvantaged, compared with an average of 40 percent for Suffolk County.