Jill Sanders of Cullen & Danowski, LLP gave a presentation at Tuesday night’s board of education meeting in which she stated that the firm “rendered what’s known as an unmodified opinion, it’s the highest level of assurance that the board of education gets.” Across the board the external auditors found the district to be in good fiscal shape both in its internal accounting as well as the district’s approach to acquiring federal funding for both educational and food services which amount to approximately $3.5 million in federal funding, Sanders stated.
Additionally, Sanders noted that the firm rendered a report on the finances of extra-curricular activities which found that the district currently has “very good controls over the many clubs with respect to the spending and the cash receipts to make certain the children’s money is protected.”
Summarizing, Sanders added that “the school district has no material weaknesses or significant deficiencies. We commented on the prior year procedurally in two areas and it’s in the form of the management letter; and I was very pleased to see as we evaluated the internal control structure and the corrective action plan that was put in place by the school district that the two items we brought to the school district’s attention last year were remediated during this current year. We have no current new management letter findings.”
Sanders went on to explain that the district is in as good shape fiscally as they can be approaching a tax cap of less than 1 percent.
“I compliment you on maintaining your fiscal stability. You spent all but 4 percent of your budget.” adding that “if the tax cap is going to be 1 percent or less it’s going to impact unless you have unassigned fund balance to support your programs. So, to the extent that you were able to maintain your 4 percent unassigned fund balance, that’s a good thing. And, basically that’s done as a result of not spending all your budget.”
Later in the meeting Greg Fischer of Calverton took to the podium to contest the accuracy of the auditor’s findings, noting that “Ms. Sanders just confirmed with me that she didn’t audit anything in the purchasing process that was detailed. We still have an open issue for at least the line items I provided the FOILs for. The vast majority of invoices submitted under those line items don’t contain any certified payroll. As well as apparently there are purchases under color of BOCES contract, so garbage in garbage out,” Fischer said.
“If those invoices never should have been accepted because they lack certified payroll, certainly the rest of the financials fail. I would request that the board look into that, and I would request that they consult with the auditors who did handle that detail,” Fisher said. “Ask those auditors why they allowed those invoices to proceed through the accounting system. They should have been stopped at the door.”
Hiring uncertified teachers questioned
With trustee Lori Hulse casting the only dissenting vote, the board approved the appointment of a new part-time physical education teacher, Edwin Perry. During the community comments section of the board meeting Riverhead resident Laurie Downs questioned whether Perry is a certified teacher, “last meeting we put a part-time gym teacher on and tabled it. I see here that you have him back up, as a part-time teacher,” Downs questioned, “is he actually certified to be a teacher or coach?”
“There’s all new tests now for teachers to become certified. This person has completed and graduated with a degree in physical education and he is currently working toward taking his last test that he needs to take and we are committed to hire that person as long as they are enrolled in the program to make sure they are taking the test,” Superintendent Nancy Carney responded. Carney said the same procedure has been followed with some of the district’s new English as a New Language teachers and some special education teachers who also have to meet the new requirements to become certified.
“When did we change that because it used to be that we would not hire unless they are certified?” Downs asked. “What happens if they don’t pass the test?”
“If they don’t pass the test we will go out and re-post for the position,” Carney answered.
Phillips Avenue School local assistance plan approved
At the request of board member Hulse, the superintendent described the process for approving a school’s local assistance plan, required by the State Education Department when students enrolled at a school are not meeting state standards on assessment tests.
The local assistance plan is developed at each school depending on how students perform on the state assessments, Carney explained. If certain students don’t perform well, the plan is developed through a team at each school looking at the data.
“This is a process that can be very beneficial, as we’re constantly looking to be sure that our students are meeting the standards that are set before them,” Carney said.
“I do ask people to remember that this is one assessment that students take and it doesn’t necessarily measure all the growth that has occurred with students,” she said.
“When you’re looking at the actual document, how is it that, or why is it that all of the grading, the way they described it is graded effective? Is that just a review internally and then we’re rating it effective or is that coming from another source?” Hulse asked.
“No, as you’re aware, the ratings with the APPR are based on a percentage of your state assessment and a percentage of your observation process,” Carney answered. “Through the observation process, which includes student performance with local measures and local testing and local assessments,” Carney explained, “if a teacher was rated effective in all the other areas they could be rated effective while still students didn’t necessarily get a 3 or 4 [on the state assessments].”
“A school is not considered failing if it is a LAP school,” Carney said. “That is just an indication that there are certain students who are not specifically at a level that is targeted for them. It does not mean that growth has not occurred, and that teachers have not been effective in the instruction that is occurring in the classroom which is really evident through multiple measures of assessment, particularly student work.
“I’m just looking at the LAP we’re approving tonight, this actually looks like it’s rating the entire school. It’s not rating a particular teacher, right?” Hulse asked.
Carney explained that “a school can be rated effective based on the other measures, even if that one state assessment had certain components that were not effective.”
“So, essentially our school is rated effective on every level,” Hulse responded.
Harlem Wizards event raises $15,000
Greg Wallace announced that with the success of the Harlem Wizards fundraising event due to sales and corporate sponsorships the RCFA teacher’s union is interested in expanding the scholarships beyond college-bound seniors to include scholarships for elementary students to attend East End Arts Council or other summer camp.
Employee drug screening requested
Laurie Downs suggested that with all of the current events related to drug abuse, the district consider negotiating with the unions the ability for the district to call any employee in for random drug testing.
“As you know, addiction does not strike one particular type of person, it strikes all walks of life,” Downs stated. “I don’t mean this to insult any of our employees, I feel this is for the health of our employees and for the health and safety of our children. If you could work at Old Navy and be pulled in at any time to have a drug test, I can’t see why it can’t happen here.”
(Editor’s note: RiverheadLOCAL video coverage of school board meetings commenced Oct. 15, 2015.)
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