School Finance Scandals Show Fiscal Accountability Measures are Necessary

The former superintendent of Roslyn schools has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $1 million from the district – the first of several criminal cases to be resolved in Roslyn. In addition, John McCormick, the son of the school’s former finance chief, recently surrendered on a grand larceny charge. He is being charged with using the school district Home Depot card to buy $85,000 worth of supplies for his contracting business and falsifying documents to cover it up. In total, former Superintendent Frank Tassone and other school officials allegedly stole more than $11.2 million from the district over the past 10 years for their own personal gain. It’s unfortunate that a few rotten apples have caused the public to lose faith in our education system.

In the wake of this unconscionable scandal and others in the area that shocked our community over the past few years, sweeping reform was necessary to restore the public’s trust and to monitor local school finances. That’s why I supported laws that increase the oversight and accountability of school districts statewide by requiring more intensive audits (Ch. 263 and 267 of 2005). Currently, federal and state investigators are reviewing spending records from other area school districts on Long Island – including Central Islip – to identify and expose any financial wrongdoings.

The funds Tassone and others are accused of stealing were supposed to provide quality education for our children – not allow these officials to pay for lavish trips overseas, private mortgages, jewelry, cash advances and more. The pilfering of these taxpayer dollars earmarked for our children is reprehensible and cannot be tolerated. By requiring more thorough audits and implementing mandatory financial training for school board members, the law will help put an end to these crimes and begin to restore taxpayer confidence.

The law I supported requires that every school district, board of cooperative educational services (BOCES) and charter school be audited by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) at least once by March 31, 2010. The audits will include an evaluation of current financial practices and the adequacy of internal controls. Any findings of fraud or abuse will be reported to the Commissioner of Education, charter entity, and state and federal prosecutors.

The law also releases $2.9 million – money that was approved in this year’s state budget – for the Comptroller’s office to hire additional auditing staff and to require schools to make the final OSC audits publicly available.

Another measure I supported requires school board members to be trained on their own roles in providing financial oversight, establishing internal audit committees, selecting external auditors on a five-year contract basis and requiring direct school board involvement in all annual reviews.

We must remember that the vast majority of school officials are good employees that have our children’s best interests at heart. These tough new measures are intended to prevent any further taxpayer abuse, as well as help restore the public’s faith in our school boards and administrators.