Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The East Ramapo School District is back in the black, according to an audit report presented to the school board Monday night.
After years of operating with a budget deficit, O'Connor Davies Partner Scott Oling told the Board of Education the district is $2.4 million to the good, though $1 million of that is tied up either paying for prior purchases or in non-expendable accounts, leaving a $1.4 million cushion.
"It certainly beats what was on this line last year," Oling said, before a half-full Ramapo High School auditorium.
Last year's audit, which was also done by the Harrison-based O'Connor Davies found an $8 million hole, a $54,000 increase from the year before. That deficit, auditors said, was primarily due to the $5 million sale of Colton Elementary School, whose transaction did not end up closing until after the fiscal year ended.
But the district was able to count on those funds this year, along with the sale of Hillcrest Elementary School, bringing the district $11 million. The sale brought the district's assets to approximately $26 million, Oling said.
With liabilities around $24 million, the district is back on sound financial footing, Oling said.
The audit was good news for Dr. Deborah Wortham, who sat with the board for her first meeting since being named East Ramapo's interim superintendent.
Prior to the meeting, board president Yehuda Weissmandl said since last year, "There has been tremendous improvement and a move forward in a positive direction."
But Monday night was not all good news. Oling did tell the board that the budget is very tight, with East Ramapo spending 99.7 percent of its budget.
"Most end up spending somewhere between 96 to 98 percent of their budget authorization," Oling said of other districts in Westchester and Rockland counties. "In other words, they end up saving 2, 3, 4 percent.
"There is not a lot of extra stuff in this budget as you go through the year," he added.
Additionally, some of the recommendations made in O'Connor Davies' audit last year were not implemented.
In both audits, the firm found an employee who has not worked in the district since 2013 is still authorized to sign checks. The district's procurement policies — which govern which contracts must go out to bid — have not been brought up to state standards and accounts for inactive student clubs remain open.
Community relations have been strained for years in East Ramapo, a district where 24,000 children attend private religious schools, and a Board of Education dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish men makes decisions for 8,500 public school students who are mostly black and Latino.
The state appointed three monitors to oversee the district in August. Led by Dennis Walcott and including John W. Sipple, a Cornell University professor and expert in school finances,the group is tasked with observing district operations and providing recommendations to ensure students have access to appropriate programs and services, and that the district is on a path to fiscal stability. They will provide a report of their findings to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and the Board of Regents in December.
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