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Massapequa school board votes to accept critical state audit

Massapequa Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock speaks at a

Massapequa Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock speaks at a school board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, about a state comptroller's audit that criticized some of the district's fiscal practices. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Massapequa school board has voted to accept a state comptroller’s audit criticizing the district’s fiscal practices, leading to questions from residents and an assurance from the deputy superintendent that the district has a “good financial plan.”

After a lengthy discussion Thursday night, the board voted unanimously just after 11:30 p.m. to accept the audit, which the state agency released earlier this week. The vote was 4-0, as trustee Joseph LaBella was absent.

The audit said the school district and board of education “did not ensure that budget estimates were reasonable.”

District officials, in a response letter that was included with the audit, had challenged the agency’s conclusions and highlighted fiscal accomplishments in recent years, such as lowering the tax levy and not increasing budgets. In that letter, school board President Tim Taylor and Superintendent Lucille Iconis described the audit figures as “incomplete and misleading.”

Some residents at the meeting said they backed the district’s handling of the issue and criticized the comptroller’s office.

According to the audit, the district amassed unneeded reserve funds and overestimated expenses over a three-year period by nearly $25 million. The school board “routinely funded reserves with operating surpluses at year-end,” the audit said, “instead of funding the reserve through the annual budget process, which would have been more transparent to district residents.”

The auditors recommended that the district adopt general fund budgets that rely on more realistic spending estimates. The report also recommended the district stop approving budgets that result in the appropriation of an unrestricted reserve-fund balance “that is not needed and not used to fund district operations.”

The audit also said the district should use surplus funds to finance either one-time expenditures, needed reserves or reduce property taxes.

At the school board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock said the “board and administration is frugal in looking at its budget and looking at its taxes.”

In response, resident Tina Cardali asked Adcock: “So you know better than the New York State comptroller’s office, a watchdog of New York State?”

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