Since the Smithtown Central School District adopted a $212.4 million budget that cuts many programs and staff members, discussion has swirled around $3.1 million in withheld state aid stemming from four reports not submitted on time to New York State of 81 total from a district capital improvement plan, which began in 2000.
It's led to a lot of fingers being pointed at Superintendent Edward Ehmann, though officals and the super himself say it's not warranted, and hope to set the facts straight.
“Both the district and the state are constantly auditing everything to see if the state owes us anything, they look to see if they overpaid us at all … the state found the fact that the district didn’t have these forms filed on time so what they did is they are withholding the building aid that comes out of those projects,” Ehmann said in a phone interview.
The capital improvement plan consisted of many building improvements, from classroom construction and additions to alterations to elementary school buildings, roof replacements, changes to security systems and more.
A statement released by the office of the superintendent stated a $138 million dollar bond as well as appropriations from the budget and capital reserve and building aid on allowable costs funded the projects.
Ehmann, who took over as superintendent in July 2007, said in a phone interview that one form from the 2004-05 school year and three forms from the 2005-06 school year are the four forms in question. Ehmann added that the district was informed of the paperwork error and that the aid would be withheld starting the first week of March 2011.
With the state withholding aid, the superintendent sought the help of state Sen. John Flanagan to help change Albany's mind on witholding the cash.
“He’s trying to see if he can get the state to not withhold the aid,” Ehmann said. “He wants to present the case that the district does things well and he is appealing their decision, which is something that should be part of the process, it remains to be seen if anything will be done.”
Calls to Flanagan’s office were not returned.
The district's withheld state aid has been the focus of local media outlets, a hot topic at board of education meetings, and the topic of discussion in the comment sections of school-related Smithtown Patch articles. Commenters have asked for the superintendent to take a pay cut or to be fired, questioned the rationale behind proposing a 4.9 percent tax levy, expressed displeasure with programs that could be taken away from students in the future and more.
The superintendent was questioned about the state aid at the April 12 Board of Education meeting by members of the community. Nancy Featherston asked Ehmann during the meeting if the district was waiting for a June appeal.
Ehmann responded by stating the district is conducting an investigation of the clerical error and he could not comment on the appeal further until the investigation is completed and the root cause of the error is determined.
Featherston also asked what the board’s plan is to find the source of the error and plans to bring the information to the public.
Neil Carlin, who is serving his third year on the Board of Education, said there are board members who have made a motion to use internal auditors to investigate the paperwork error.
“I would like to see outside people investigate the administrative staff, that’s my view, rather than the administration investigate other administrative people,” Carlin said. “I think an independent auditor [will] look into this with cleaner hands, with no agenda.”
Ehmann has also asked for help resolving the matter from Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick.
Calls to Fitzpatrick's office were not returned.