A Manhasset School District official said Tuesday that a new e-mail by the Manhasset Proponents for School Accountability accusing the board of education of preparing a capital bond that would breach the state-mandated tax cap for up to 30 years is “filled with untruths.”
“It’s very disheartening that the MPSA continues to make implications that bear no resemblance to the truth,” said Rosemary Johnson, the Manhasset School District’s assistant superintendent for business.
In the e-mail, sent to the Manhasset community last Wednesday, the MPSA called on the board of education to offer “financial transparency” in response to an MPSA audit that the watchdog group said revealed the school district overtaxed residents by $25 million in the last decade.
The MPSA, which has declined to disclose its members, did not disclose the audit as part of its e-mail.
The MPSA also charged that the district’s capital plan, which has identified $30 million in potential projects to be financed by a bond, could have been paid for through surplus funds if they were not utilized to cover personnel costs.
“The Manhasset School District began its bond campaign with a ‘walking tour’ and will probably end it with the usual refrain, ‘it’s for the children,’” the MPSA said in the e-mail.
“However, before residents allow the district to float a $30 million bond that will pierce the tax cap for the next 20 to 30 years, long after the current administration is gone, serious people should demand answers to serious questions regarding the budget padding process and serious people should demand to know where $25 million in taxes was spent over the last ten years and why it was not spent on repairs and renovations,” the group said.
But Johnson said a capital bond would not be considered in the state’s annual calculation of the district’s tax cap, and that increases to employee and teacher retirement compensation and health benefits are dictated by the state each year.
She also disputed the MPSA’s charge that the school district padded its annual budget, which the group also alleged in an e-mail in January in wake of a report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that said Manhasset sustained “fiscal stress” in the last year.
She also alleged the MPSA inaccurately implied in its e-mail that the board was part of a July report by DiNapoli’s office criticizing other area school districts – including the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park School District – of overestimating expenditures.
In the e-mail, the MPSA wrote, “New York State Examiners…have identified six Long Island school Districts, similar to Manhasset, that have misled taxpayers.” The e-mail’s subject line reads, “State Examiner Warns Taxpayers of Deceptive School Budget Practices.”
The e-mail does not directly reference DiNapoli’s audit or the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park School District.
“What they’re referencing is audits of other districts and from the e-mail it’s as if they’re painting Manhasset with the same brush,” Johnson said. “It’s just not true.”
Manhasset board of education trustees declined to comment for this story.
Johnson said the district would release a statement in response to the e-mail prior to the start of the school year.
Wednesday’s e-mail was the latest in a series of messages by the MPSA calling for the board of education to be completely transparent with the community on its budget creation and spending processes.
But board of education trustees in February said the district’s entire budget process is already transparent, as members of the public are invited to attend meetings and work sessions and participate in discussion.
They added that the district’s finances and internal controls are reviewed by two independent auditing firms that present their findings to the board and Audit Committee, which is comprised of Manhasset residents.
The MPSA has declined to disclose the author of its e-mails on several occasions, both in e-mail exchanges with the Manhasset Times and in a telephone conversation in February during which someone who said he was speaking on behalf of the MPSA said the group wants to remain secretive to avoid confrontations with community members.
The self-described MPSA spokesman also said he called from a pay phone in an effort to conceal his identity.
The self-described MPSA spokesman said MPSA e-mails are circulated to approximately 1,000 residents who spread its information by word-of-mouth.
Reach reporter Bill San Antonio by e-mail at [email protected], by phone at 516.307.1045 x215 and on Twitter @ Bill_SanAntonio. Also follow us on Twitter @theislandnow1 and Facebook at facebook.com/theislandnow.