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Who Do You Believe - The School District or Your Lying Eyes?

This is my perspective on the Commack School District’s response at last week's budget meeting to new board member Jim Tampellini's Patch article - explaining why he believes the District is intentionally over-estimating its budget.  Anyone who missed the article can read it here -http://commack.patch.com/groups/jim-tampellinis-blog/p/the-fleecing-of-commack-school-district-taxpayers

At last week's meeting the District denied it is illegally padding the budget. Dr. James claimed that the Memo (referenced as Exhibit A in the article), which lists the areas where it is over estimating its expenditures, is being interpreted incorrectly and said that the language used in the Memo is a matter of “semantics” - because while the District  may have used the word “contingency” in referring to the listed expenses they really meant to say “anticipated ” expenses.  See the last 5 minutes of the meeting video here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUedmSdBgIA  The Memo can be viewed here -https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3cbjRc1NY_pTGNrX0ZReFV0TXc/edit?pli=1 

The District’s explanation should be given as much credence as a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar saying “who you going to believe .. me or your lying eyes?”

From my perspective the District’s explanation is unbelievable and makes no sense for the following reasons. 

#1 - the Memo’s own words undermine the District’s explanation.  The title of the Memo reads “PLANNED CONTINGENCY.”  The words in the body of the Memo state “the proposed budget contains funds that could be available for unforeseen or contingency needs.”  These are the District’s own chosen words.  So not only does the District’s explanation contradict the Title of the Memo but also the District’s own description of the purpose for which those funds are to be used = for contingencies.

#2 - The District’s explanation is incredible because Dr. James and Ms. Neumann are experienced administrators who have been preparing school budgets for many years.  Certainly they know the difference between an “anticipated expense” (one that is expected) and a “contingent expense” (one that is unexpected).  So it is simply too great a stretch of believability for them to now claim they mistakenly utilized the wrong terms.

#3- The Memo specifically identifies the general areas where the District is over- estimating the bulk of its expenses - e.g., in Instruction ($1.3M) and Employee Benefits ($2.5M).  These so happen to be the same areas where the NYS Comptroller’s Office has recently found other school districts have been improperly over-estimating their expenditures.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Mt. Sinai Audit:  “District officials over-estimated expenditures by as much as $6.2 million each year from 2007-08 through 2011-12. For example, over this five-year period, the District overestimated employee benefits by a total of more than $6.9 million, programs for children with handicapped conditions by approximately $4.9 million, central services by approximately $2.9 million, teaching – regular school by approximately $2.2 million, and pupil services by more than $1.3 million.” http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/schools/2013/mountsinai.pdf  = page 6

Central Islip Audit:  “Also, over three years (fiscal years 2010-11 through 2012-2013), the District overestimated programs for children with handicapped conditions by as much as $7.4 million, regular school teaching expenses by as much as $5 million, pupil transportation by as much as $1.7 million and pupil services by as much as $1.6 million.” https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3cbjRc1NY_pS05NWUpjeVFvQW8/edit?pli=1 = page 8.

#4 - As Mr. Tampellini’s article points out, the District’s audit reports show that the District has been running multi-million dollar surplus for at least the past 3 years.  My own further review shows such budget surpluses can be traced back for at least the past 5 years.  So this is by no means a one-off event. 

#5 - Consideration should also be given as to who has the ulterior motive to deceive here. On one hand, Mr. Tampellini gains nothing from disclosing this information – all he gets is a backlash of criticism from the District, his fellow board members and those in the community who blindly support them.  On the other hand, if the District acknowledges that its budgeting practices are improper it could have to answer to the NYS Comptroller’s Office, would be publicly humiliated and have a lot of unhappy taxpaying residents.  The District surely has more at stake. 

When you put all of these facts together, the only logical conclusion to be drawn is that the District's explanation simply makes no sense.  I suppose that the only way the District’s conduct will be proven improper (or not) is if the NYS Comptroller’s Office ever comes and performs an audit.  I doubt that the District's budget practices will pass thier scrutiny, as the Comptroller's Office is not as easily fooled as the public.  Unfortunately, until that time, the District will continue to confuse and take advantage of the public’s ignorance and lack of attention on a complex issue that many citizens simply do not understand.


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

James April 17, 2014 at 03:21 PM
That's cute - retired I actually believe JT and peter have similar personalities just disagree with how the district should be run I think they are both smug , condescending know it alls I assure you I am nothing more than a resident of commack
James April 17, 2014 at 03:30 PM
mjs- once again I am not Peter W. I am a resident , accountant for one of the big four accounting firms. I have know idea how cost per student is calculated. I only assume it is calculated how I suggested ...
James April 17, 2014 at 05:22 PM
PleAse provide your feed back.. I have posted under JT "fleecing of the taxpayer"
ergodic April 17, 2014 at 07:10 PM
@James: (1) Some issues of the NYSED-published Property Tax Report Card tabulate “Spending/Pupil” for all NYS school districts. It is computed as: “Spending/Pupil” = “Budgeted Spending”/ “Total Enrollment” (e.g., refer to Property Tax Report for 2012-13). That method is the norm. Note that the data used to generate the report for 2014-15 is due from the districts on April 26, 2014. (2) In a previous comment, I provided information re the relationship of “Spending/Pupil” (aka “Cost/Pupil) to enrollment history in CUFSD. Refer to http://commack.patch.com/groups/opinions/p/commack-boe-budget-meeting-videos. (3) It is less common, but obviously possible, to define associated rubrics such as “actual” expenditures/pupil, or funding (state, federal, local) / pupil. Refer to: http:// www.newyorkfed.org/regional/school-finances/#/charts/expenditures. The site permits comparisons between districts. (4) Some comparative data on 2013-14 “Spending/Pupil” for neighboring districts follows: Cold Spring Harbor ($32,151); Northport ($26.847); Commack ($25,871); Half Hollow Hills ($25,006); Elwood ($23,462); Harborfields ($23.006); Kings Park ($22,551); Smithtown ($22,304). For 2014-15: Commack ($27,197)
Commackvoter April 17, 2014 at 09:15 PM
Correct. Cost per student is budget amount divided by # of students. Now that is the average cost because we all know a Spec Ed student has higher education costs than a mainstream student, but it is how the State education dept lists it for all districts in their Property Tax Report Cards as stated by Ergodic.

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