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Audit slams West Babylon schools for overpaying staff

The West Babylon school district overpaid retiring workers $64,215 for unused leave time - 20 percent more than what they were owed - according to state auditors who term the overpayments a disservice to taxpayers.

In a stinging review of the district's management practices, the state comptroller's office also found that West Babylon granted seven chief and head custodians 58 days of holiday time to which they were not contractually entitled.

Auditors reported one case of a chief custodian cashing in 10 unused holidays that were not then deducted from his vacation balance. Auditors noted that this could potentially have resulted in an extra, unjustified payout of $2,165.

"Being very careful with tax dollars means not paying people money they're not supposed to get," said state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

The audit covered district operations from July 2007 through December 2008.

In response, West Babylon school officials conceded that not all the leave time granted custodians, clerical workers and other nonprofessional employees was specifically covered by contract. Those officials added, however, that the vacation time in question was allotted under district policies dating back a half-century.

Superintendent Anthony Cacciola said in a phone interview that he had taken steps since becoming chief executive in 2007 to make sure that leave time granted was formally included in union contracts.

Cacciola added, however, that he disagreed with a comptroller's recommendation that the district should try to recover alleged overpayments.

"We're definitely not in agreement that a mistake was made," the superintendent said. "We definitely had a rationale, and it was a 50-year practice."

Cacciola himself began his career as a custodian before working his way up through a series of managerial positions, including 14 years as assistant superintendent for finance.

State auditors also blasted West Babylon for what they described as lax controls over fuel used in district vehicles.

For example, auditors said district records for July 2008 showed 2,325 gallons of fuel used during that month. However, stick readings showed an actual consumption was 2,960 gallons - 27 percent more than reported.

Auditors further reported that locks on gates protecting district fuel pumps had not been changed in more than 20 years, and that district authorities could not determine exactly how many people might have keys to those locks.

Based on these findings, auditors concluded that West Babylon ran the risk of undetected leaks in its fuel tanks, or of employee misuse of gasoline and diesel oil. In response, the district said it had improved recording of fuel transactions.

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