Roslyn ed board touts fiscal health

Roslyn ed board touts fiscal health

Roslyn School District’s finances are in good shape, according to the office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

 “He found we are fiscally healthy and that our practices are strong,” the assistant superintendent for business, Joseph Dragone, said at last week’s school board meeting.

State auditors paid their first visit to the Roslyn school system in a decade with a complete financial review of the district, Dragone said. 

The audit, he said, is part of an objective to inspect every school system in the state in five-year cycles.

The audit’s final report made just one minor recommendation — that the district make three receipts for its payments instead of two, he said.

“To me that’s kudos to the board, and to the business office staff that’s been working very hard over the past 10 years,” Dragone said. “When I first came here, we had 27 different things that were egregious — budgets that had no way of tracking the amount of money that was being spent, contracts that weren’t approved by the Board of Education — it really was just horrendous. And to have a relatively minor recommendation be made about [cash] receipts, to me is wonderful.”

Since the report came out, the district has changed its receipt practices to reflect the comptroller’s recommendation, he said.

Dragone’s arrival a decade ago followed an investigation of school finances that resulted in former Superintendent Frank Tassone being sentenced to prison for his part in an embezzling scheme involving school officials in which $11.2 million was stolen from the district. 

The court found Tassone and an assistant were keeping a second set of books to mask fraudulent vendor payments they were pocketing for themselves.

School Board President Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy and Vice President Cliff Saffron, then trustees, were there to witness the drama surrounding the district’s financial mishandlings. 

Saffron called Tassone in court “the C.E.O. of a criminal enterprise.”

Following Dragone’s report last week, Ben-Levy praised Saffron for his role in keeping the district fiscally responsible in the years since the embezzlement scandal.

“Among those many people who steadfastly helped the district recover its financial health and reputation, first and foremost is Cliff Saffron,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “[He] above all others has brought his leadership, integrity, financial expertise, foresight and affection for our school community and our children to the stewardship of the district’s finances. Cliff has played an essential role in regaining the public’s trust, and we would not be in the very strong fiscal position we are in today without him.”

The school board also announced at the meeting that the district received an Aa1 credit rating by Moody’s Investors Service, the second highest possible grade, citing Roslyn schools’ “sizeable and wealthy tax base, strong financial position marked by healthy reserves and liquidity, and low debt burden.”

The rating places Roslyn schools in the 99th percentile above other school districts, with only 0.5 percent of other districts receiving a higher grade, Dragone said.

Aa1 status isn’t just a pat on the back for the district, but  has an effect on residents in the form of tax savings, he said.

The district is in the midst of a $40 million capital improvement plan, which is largely being paid for by a $24.3 million bond. 

When the bond was approved by the public in 2014,  a 4.5 percent interest rate was projected, Dragone said.

Because of the good financial review from Moody’s, he said, the district received a more favorable interest rate at just over 2 percent. 

The lower rate will cut almost $5 million from the taxpayers’ bill over the 15-year borrowing period, he said.

by Chris Adams

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