A recent audit of the East Meadow school district by the state comptroller’s office found that the district paid more than $1.1 million in overtime costs to the facilities and operations department due to improper monitoring.
Between July 2018 and June 2022, the district had roughly $1.4 million budgeted for overtime expenses, but wound up using over $2.5 million, according to the report done by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.
The audit sent to the district lays out what the comptroller’s office looked into, and what they ultimately found. It highlights the key findings, and then offers recommendations to ensure that whatever the findings may be, don’t happen again.
“District officials did not ensure that written approval was obtained before all overtime was worked; therefore, employees may have worked unnecessary overtime,” the audit stated. “As a result, the increased overtime will also increase the amount owed by the district annually to the State, for its share of the cost of the employees’ retirement benefits.”
From July 2020 through December 2021, 88 of the 112 department employees received a total of nearly $1.3 million in overtime. According to the audit, more overtime money was paid out for instances where overtime was not approved or was approved after the overtime was already worked.
The audit allowed for a response from district officials regarding their thoughts on the audits findings. Kenneth Card Jr., the district’s superintendent, asked auditors to consider that during the time they examined, the Covid-19 pandemic was taking place.
“Our district, similar to other districts, suffered extensive illness, mandated quarantine periods, and several deaths during this time,” Card wrote. “From the beginning of the pandemic, until the middle of December we lost 796 manpower days (6,368 manpower hours) in the areas examined alone.”
In regard to the nearly $1.3 million paid in overtime to department employees, Card wrote to the auditors that pandemic requirements for schools given by the state changed frequently, leaving little time for plans to be made.
“Reviewing the history, many requirements were frequently imposed on schools by the state with no prior notice, and then were implemented via all means available by operational staff, including overtime,” he wrote. “There was a period of time that operational changes were mandated by the state and the Department of Health via an afternoon press conference, which did not allow any time for prior planning.”
He also wrote that he does not see the “constant state of emergency/emergency response,” to be a factor moving forward.
Auditors recommended that the Board of Education adopt a policy with clear guidelines for overtime work, including the pre-approval of all overtime. They also recommended that district officials make sure that all non-emergency overtime is pre-approved in writing, and that emergency overtime is documented with an approval form the next day, as required by the district policy.
In a statement sent out to district residents, Card explained that during the 2019-20 school year, the district implemented a four-step process for approving overtime which included oversight by department supervisors, building principals, and the director of facilities. The district’s assistant superintendent for business and finance also is set to monitor overtime on a monthly basis to ensure consistency, and any noticeable deviation must be explained to the board.
Out of the four years reviewed on the audit, 2019-20 was the only year that the district didn’t go over in overtime. Exceeding the overtime in 2020-21, and 2021-22, can be explained due to the pandemic, Card said, because, “the approval protocols we established were disrupted due to the onset of the pandemic.”
In a statement from the Board of Education, they emphasized that the audit was done at random, and that nothing that the school district did caused them to be audited. They also pointed out that the funds used for the overtime were not from the budget, but were actually from the CARES Act.
“The audit did not conclude that this was an unnecessary, unwarranted or excessive expense, solely that funds for this were not budgeted ahead of time,” the Board wrote.
“This is particularly important given that the timeframe at issue was during the pandemic. It was impossible for the board, or any other school organization to budget for overtime expenses for a number of reasons.”
In the audit, Card wrote that he will accept and implement the recommendation of the auditors that the board should adopt a policy with clear guidelines for overtime work.