Mineola board calls comptroller’s audit ‘pedantic and myopic’

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Mineola board calls comptroller’s audit ‘pedantic and myopic’
The Mineola Union Free School District Board of Education was found to be mismanaging their financial condition during an audit period of 2016-2020. (Photo courtesy of the Mineola Union Free School District)

Members of the Mineola Board of Education called a New York state comptroller’s report that criticized their handling of finances “pedantic and myopic,” citing a budgeting process that is transparent. 

In a statement sent to Blank Slate Media, the board, consisting of Margaret Ballantyne-Mannion, Patrick Talty, Brian Widman, Cheryl Lampasona and Stacey DeCillis, said it has long budgeted conservatively.

“No mechanism exists for a public school system to run a deficit like many different levels of government can and often do, so our budget is necessarily conservative,” the trustees said.

The statement came in response to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s 12-page audit report that said  the district was mismanaging funds.

The maximum surplus allowed is 4 percent, but the district’s surplus, or appropriated fund balance, reached 13 percent, according to the audit, and as a result, more taxes were levied than  needed to fund operations.

In 1972, DiNapoli won his first election when he served as a trustee on the Mineola Board of Education as an 18-year-old, the first in New York State to hold public office. 

The board also cited uncertainty in regard to Albany, which once told school districts they might face a 20% cut in state aid. The board members said it would be irresponsible to budget based on promises, so they chose not to. 

Any surplus at the end of the year is transferred to capital line items by resolutions made at board meetings in order for projects to be completed the following fiscal year, the statement said.

“This plan to reconfigure the district and invest the savings in our schools was debated, voted on, and approved by the public,” the board members said.

Moody’s Aa3 (Prime-1) bond rating, issued to the district this summer, was also cited as a benefit created from the surplus mentioned in the comptroller’s report. 

The statement read, “From a practical standpoint, this enabled the district to refinance a bond floated many years ago which will result in a savings of $860K over the next decade.”

Asked for comment when the comptroller’s report was released,  School Superintendent Michael Nagler said in a statement: “Last year the district had a zero levy. For the past 12 years the district averaged a 1.2% levy. Simultaneously, the district transferred money from the fund balance into the budget to achieve capital upgrades. Our community is informed of how the district spends the surplus and has supported our budgets every year with over 70% approval.”

In addition to the comptroller’s office, which the board said performs audits from time to time,  internal and external auditors review the district’s budget annually, and the findings are  presented to the public. 

The public vote alone is more scrutiny than any other budget receives, and we are very proud that over the last 8 years, the district has averaged a 75% pass margin for our annual budgets,” the trustees’ statement said.

In the district’s interview with the comptroller office, the board said, auditors revealed they were unaware of advantages districts have when they fund projects with available undesignated reserves, or a surplus, which was cited as mismanagement in the initial report, which they find “regretful” not to be included. 

So, we find the comptroller’s report to be both pedantic and myopic … the audit report fails to see the bigger picture and sadly attempts to undermine the good work of this Board and our administration as we continue to pursue our district’s mission on behalf of our children,” the board concluded. 

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