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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Press Releases

12/30/14, Contact: Press Office (518) 474-4015

DiNapoli: Audit Reveals Questionable Financial Decisions, Lack of Transparency in Hempstead School District

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released an audit today of the Hempstead Union Free School District that uncovered a myriad of systemic problems, including more than $453,000 in inappropriate or questionable staff payments and repeatedly excluding the public from board deliberations.

“Actions in the Hempstead school district demonstrate a neglect of sound fiscal and administrative practices and a disregard for the interests of taxpayers,” said DiNapoli. “Instead of the strong leadership and careful nurturing that this troubled school district needed, our audit revealed a pattern of wasteful spending, poor decision-making, sloppy recordkeeping and a lack of transparency. I strongly urge Hempstead’s administrators and school board members to act immediately and address the issues contained in this report.”

DiNapoli’s office found a number of payments to administrators that raised concerns. This includes the current superintendent Susan Johnson receiving biweekly paychecks that were $7,000 to $11,000 more than she was contractually entitled to for more than four months.

On Nov. 1, 2012, the board appointed Johnson as interim superintendent and set her pro-rated annual salary as $60,000. This agreement should have equated to $2,307 per pay period. Instead, the district paid Johnson $13,333 biweekly, or $11,026 more per paycheck than should have been paid, which equates to an annual salary of $346,667. When she was ultimately appointed district superintendent, Johnson’s base salary increased to $210,000 per year, which is equal to 26 biweekly payments of about $8,077. However, her biweekly salary payment increased to $15,000.

The superintendent did not inform the school board of these overpayments. The calculation for the higher payments was based on instructions from a former school board member.

During this same time frame, the district approved a confidential “separation agreement” with former superintendent Dr. Patricia Garcia. The district provided severance benefits that included a continuation of her $237,543 salary, a $44,539 lump sum payment of her accrued leave and health insurance coverage for up to 14 months.

In total, the district paid the former superintendent $291,143 and paid the current superintendent
$158,461 during the 2012-13 school year.

Auditors also discovered that, from July 2011 through September 2012, the district made $95,000 in vendor payments to a school board assistant, whose duties mirrored those of the school district clerk.

Officials claim the creation of this position was a mistake and was later terminated.

Furthermore, the school board has not scheduled sufficient meetings to ensure that all of its decisions and deliberations are performed in a transparent and public manner. While the board schedules about 13 meetings per year, it actually held a total of 65 meetings during the two-year period beginning July 2011 through June 2013. Nearly 60 percent of these meetings were designated either “special” or “emergency,” which are often called at a time or place where the public is less likely to be able to attend. The reason for calling these meetings was not always evident and the board often conducted business that did not appear to be of any real urgency.

Additional audit findings include:

  • A former deputy superintendent inappropriately received two payments for 50 unused vacation days totaling $34,375; in total six administrators received $48,000 in benefits that were not in accordance with their contract or district policy;
  • A district community aide, a homeless liaison and a parent liaison did not meet minimum qualifications for their positions and an assistant coach did not have a required coaching license. A community aide, working as a parent liaison, was also paid $27,000 more than was authorized;
  • Substitute teachers were permitted to work in excess of SED regulations that cap the number of days non-certified teachers can work as substitutes during the school year;
  • District officials did not always ensure that students’ special education evaluations were performed properly, and did not adequately monitor the services provided to students to ensure that students received all services specified in their individualized education program; and
  • The district did not limit access to its student information system. Many users had more access rights than they needed to perform their job responsibilities and were able to view and modify student information including attendance, enrollment, historical grades and discipline activity.

The Comptroller’s recommendations to the district include:

  • Investigate the questionable payments made to employees and the questionable credits to leave accruals, and attempt to recover any unauthorized payments;
  • Make sound financial decisions that are in the best interest of the district when hiring and entering into agreements with administrators;
  • Adopt a policy to provide guidelines or establish individual contracts for employees who do not belong to collective bargaining units;
  • Refrain from approving confidential agreements, and ensure that all employment agreements and separation agreements are available to the public and approved at regular meetings;
  • Establish procedures to ensure that employee leave accrual records are accurate;
  • Discontinue the practice of calling special and emergency meetings unless an urgent condition occurs;
  • Develop comprehensive procedures to hire and retain the most qualified employees, including ensuring and documenting that employees meet the minimum education, experience and certification requirements for their positions; receive an appropriate salary based on contracted rates or salary schedules; and receive an annual evaluation; and
  • Review and revise user access rights to the software application in accordance with job description to ensure that users have access only to functions necessary to perform their job responsibilities.

A full list of recommendations and the response from district officials is included in the final audit report. For a copy, visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/schools/2014/hempstead.pdf

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