Audit raises red flags on school district’s payroll, vendor payments

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The early findings of a new audit are raising questions about how the embattled Hempstead School District has spent millions of dollars in taxpayer money, and whether its policies and practices are legal.

News 12 Long Island obtained a copy of the preliminary findings of the audit, performed by the public accounting firm Plante Moran. In a 24-page report, auditors raised more than a dozen red flags about payroll practices and vendor payments during the 2014 to 2017 school years.

The findings include 295 payroll payments to former employees, 25 employees with no birth dates on file or questionable birthdays, "unusual trends" in vendor payments such as duplicate payouts to the same vendors, and payments made on weekends, as well as "significant amounts of overtime pay."

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Michael Cohen, a former Long Island school superintendent, was showed the findings by News 12 and says they defy legal explanation. He notes that the alleged questionable spending uncovered by the audit comes at a time when students in the district are still learning in portable trailers.

"Whose needs are at the top of the list here? Is it the needs of the students, or the needs of adults who seem to be using the district as an ATM?" questions Cohen.

Hempstead School Board members Gwen Jackson and Maribel Toure pushed for the initial audit, but since the preliminary results came back in January, they lost their majority vote on the board. They say the new majority stalled on approving more money for Plante Moran to finish its investigation.

"Three months passed since they stopped working, and in those three months, the business manager was suspended, the business office was moved, all the records were packed," says Toure. "We don't really know if they're going to find all the evidence."

"The money is going somewhere, and that's what we're trying to find out," Jackson says.

The school board voted at its last meeting to pay the firm $100,000 to complete the audit.

A spokeswoman for the district tells News 12 that it is cooperating with the audit and will be providing any documents needed to substantiate or refute any findings from the preliminary report.

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