The latest on the Dumont High School lock down, a rally for a gay former Bergen County officer and a woman baseball umpire from West Milford – all in “7 things to know in New Jersey on Tuesday.”
John C. Ensslin
LYNDHURST – The Board of Education announced the school district was investigated by the state over its 2014-15 finances and needs to pay back $301,224.
The Tuesday night board meeting also marked the first public meeting since Schools Superintendent Shauna DeMarco announced she would be leaving the district in June. The board discussed the findings of a state Title I Audit Report, performed by the Department of Education’s investigatory arm, the Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC).
Lyndhurst is also contending with a $1.1 million deficit, having passed a corrective action plan in January. Given the OFAC findings, the deficit is now closer to $1.4 million.
In a statement, DeMarco noted that in the 2014-2015 school year, she was not a central office administrator, present Business Administrator Scott Bisig was not in Lyndhurst and the board was “not the current board.”
“The board is working with the Department of Education so the reimbursement has minimum impact on the district’s taxpayers as well as the delivery of instruction and services,” said DeMarco. “[The report] does not conclude or claim that funds were not used for students or our programs.”
Among the OFAC’s 12 findings were that $40,372 was for a consultant to provide remedial and resource room services for nonpublic school students attending Sacred Heart School, the report read. The district and Sacred Heart were not able to produce a copy of the contract and a detailed description of services.
“It was also noted that the consultant charged daily rates which ranged from $200 to $500 regardless of the number of actual hours worked,” the report read.
In a similar finding, the district did not maintain proper control over funds to nonpublic schools.
Deficit: Administrators make concessions as Lyndhurst district addresses $1.1 million deficit
“Conversations with district personnel revealed the LEA did not properly control or monitor services provided to nonpublic school students,” the report read. “In particular, district staff revealed that nonpublic school officials independently determined the needs of its school and contracted services with the third party vendor.”
Other findings were that the district charged $150,300 for four salaries to the Title I program which supplanted local funding sources; $54,600 for three other staff members were improperly allocated to the Title I Part A grant; and $55,952 in fringe benefits allocated to Title I Part A were deemed to be unallowable costs by OFAC.
“Various purchases orders for serviced provided to nonpublic students were issued after the activities began,” the report read.
In addition, about $8,472 was charged to the 2014-15 grant when it should have been charged to 2015-16, and Title I funded personnel did not prepare detailed time and activity reports consistent with program requirements, the report read.
According to OFAC, Lyndhurst also did not provide evidence that it consulted with nonpublic school officials during development of the Title I program or that it mailed the Parent’s Right to Know letter.
The state was also critical of the Board of Education’s meeting minutes concerning appointments and recordkeeping of purchased professional and technical services.
Bisig was appointed after the departure of the former administrator, David DiPisa, last summer. DiPisa and the Lyndhurst program director were contacted for its examination, the report read.
The state concluded Lyndhurst must refund $301,224 with its corrective action plan.
Bisig said the district may dispute what he called “a couple of discrepancies” in the OFAC report.
Audience members demanded answers for how the district found itself in this financial situation. Resident Elaine Stella noted that half the current school board was seated in 2014-2015.
The deficit was partially created by items being paid out of future years, Attorney Dennis McKeever explained, saying the district decided to “stop the merry go round.”
DeMarco explained “something just didn’t seem right,” when she examined the finances last summer, so she asked the incoming business administrator to review. That’s when the deficit first came to light.
In January, a new spending plan and districtwide coordination was passed to enable Lyndhurst to satisfy the deficit by June. DeMarco said while the OFAC $301,000 is a “gamechanger,” the deficit should be reduced.
Residents asked if the district would pursue legal action against its auditor.
That will be determined later, McKeever said, adding the county is also the gatekeeper of finances as it reviews districts’ budgets annually.
The state annually examines the spending of federal Title I funds by districts which receive them, explained DOE spokesman Michael Yaple. Generally, a district has 30 days after receiving an OFAC report to discuss it at a public meeting, and then another 30 days to either appeal the state’s findings or implement a corrective action plan to address any deficiencies or monetary findings.
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