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School District Seeks $3M in Withheld State Aid

Paperwork errors concerning past building and improvement projects are resulting in $3.1 million in state aid being withheld, something Superintendent Edward Ehmann is seeking political help to remedy.

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.

Vinod W. April 21, 2011 at 08:58 PM
Thank you Peter and the Patch for shedding light on this most disturbing situation. It's unfathomable that Superintendent Ehmann is still trying to conceal his culpability. I believe NYS allows about a year and a half from the completion of the projects to final expenditure filing. In an article by Monica Gleiberman in the Smithtown Times last week it revealed that 3 of the 4 projects were completed in August and Dec. 2006. Going forward a year and a half that places them solidly within Mr. Ehmann's superintendency, and therefore makes him accountable. Thankfully, Mr. Carlin is insisting on an independent investigator, who will not take a biased view.
Chuck April 22, 2011 at 12:20 AM
This is a fine piece of reporting but did Ehmann forget that the district owes an additional $10.5 million over the next several years? The $3.1 million is just for this year. Thanks, Vinod for clarifying that the state allows a year and a half for final expenditure filing. This means that Ehmann is responsible for at least three of the errors, and should be held accountable by the Board of Education before the budget vote so the public will have faith in the district's management.
PTA Dad April 22, 2011 at 12:22 PM
BOE MEMBER NEIL CARLIN WANTS AN INDEPENDENT INESTIGATION. OK, SO WHERE DO THE REST OF THE BOE AND THE CANDIDATES FOR THE BOE STAND? THE BUDGET VOTE AND ELECTION SHOULD NOT GO BY WITHOUT THE COMMUNITY HEARING FROM THE REST OF THESE FOLKS. IS IT BELIEVABLE THAT VINOD AND THE SMITHTOWN TIMES KNOW THAT THERE IS A YEAR AND A HALF PERIOD BETWEEN THE COMPLETION OF THE PROJECT AND FINAL FILING AND EHMANN AND THE BOE DO NOT HAVE A CLUE? HOPEFULLY, THE BOE IS NOT COVERING UP FOR EHMANN'S INCOMPETENCE, AND WILL HOLD HIM ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE $13.5 MILLION PENALTY SMITHTOWN'S TAXPAYERS, PARENTS AND CHILDREN WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR THIS YEAR AND WELL INTO THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.
steve davis April 22, 2011 at 04:11 PM
This has been a big issue in Smithtown since The Smithtown News wrote about it. very disturbing
Rose Alexander April 22, 2011 at 11:11 PM
Go to the NYSED Dept. website and search for the NYS State Aid Handbook. It clearly states districts have 18 months from project completion to submit final expenditure filings. This places THREE of the projects solidly on Mr. Ehmann's watch. There are also detailled step by step tips about how to/when to file the required applications properly. Too bad that Mr. Ehmann and his administrative team didn't check the State Aid Handbook. Is it too much to ask that highly paid superintendents and assistants read and follow directions? Is it possible that Ehmann has pulled the wool over the Board's eyes and they don't know he's responsible, or are they also trying to cover up his incompetence? The public has a right to know BEFORE we vote on May 17.
Just A Mom April 23, 2011 at 12:10 AM
I AM DISAPPOINTED, DISGUSTED AND DISILLUSIONED THAT MR. EHMANN WAS NOT HONEST WITH THE PTA ABOUT HIS RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE STATE AID FIASCO. HE INSISTED MANY TIMES THAT HE HAD NO PART IN THE MISTAKES. NOW THAT HE IS CLEARLY IMPLICATED, HE NEEDS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, APOLOGIZE TO THE PTA AND SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF PUTTING THE DISTRICT IN JEOPARDY
Norman April 24, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Just remember- for those of you out there who are using this incident as another reason to vote no: voting down the budget will result in a larger tax increase than a yes vote on the proposed budget. In addition, the contingency budget will cut services and staff more. BE SMART...don't let your personal feelings get in the way of a logical decision.
PTA Dad April 24, 2011 at 03:35 PM
OK, NORMAN, THAT'S FAIR. I WILL CONSIDER VOTING FOR THE BUDGET ONCE THE OTHER SIX MEMBERS OF THE BOARD AND THE TWO WHO ARE RUNNING TAKE A STAND ON THIS. I WILL CONSIDER VOTING FOR THE BUDGET ONCE EHMANN TAKES RESPONSIBILITY AND THE BOE MAKES HIM TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT HIS INVOLVEMENT. I WILL CONSIDER VOTING FOR THE BUDGET WHEN THE COVER UP ENDS AND ALL WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE ARE HELD ACCOUNTABLE BY THE BOARD.
Vinod W. April 25, 2011 at 02:02 PM
The truth must be told, the board members must speak, and consequences must be meted out before the budget vote and school board elections.
Donna Marie April 26, 2011 at 12:17 AM
Since when does a Superintendent advocate for a budget that is $3 million below contingency? Only when he needs to take $3 million away from our children's education to pay for his mistakes, not so coincidentally a $3 million penalty from NYS for failing to file papers on time. He has gotten away with repeatedly lying to the PTA about his part in this fiasco. The board talks a good game of truth and transparency. Let's hear from each of them individually before the budget vote about how they plan to hold Mr. Ehmann responsible for this travesty.
Justin G. April 26, 2011 at 12:16 PM
Ehman's con games and costly antics are harming the district and tarnishing the board members.
Justin G. April 30, 2011 at 10:10 AM
When are we gong to hear from the BOE members about the $13.5 million in lost building aid due to administrative incompetence, before or after May 17? So far, Neil Carlin is the only one of them who has spoken on the record and questioned Supt. Ehman's veracity. Are the rest of them condoning Ehman's cover up? If not, let's hear what they have to say.
Rose Alexander May 01, 2011 at 02:35 PM
If Rossi wants to be re-elected in 2 weeks, he should speak now or forever hold his peace. He cannot continue to remain silent and enable Ehmann's cover up to cloud the issue of accountability. He has to insist on transparency NOW, and that means the public release of all documents relating to this scandal.
Rick May 01, 2011 at 02:54 PM
ROSSI HAS TO STOP BEING DRAGGED DOWN BY EHMANN NOW AND STOP BEING HIS RUBBER STAMP. AS PRESIDENT, HE NEEDS TO BE A LEADER AND NOT AN EHMANN FRIEND. HE HAS A FIDUCIARY RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT THE TAXPAYERS AND STUDENTS, NOT THE SUPT.
Just A Mom May 01, 2011 at 04:13 PM
I'm sorry Flanagan's not running but more concerned about BOE candidates. and upcoming vote on 5-17. All 5 must demand transparency in regards to the $13.5 million snafu, and whether they support shuttering our kids' schools, raising class size, and cutting electives and sports now and for 15 years to come to pay for some administrative laxity. Also, need to hold Ehmann to task for giving PTA different versions of truth. BOE members not running must also lift the veil of secrecy and apoint an independent investigator.

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