Question 1 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Audited Financials

Written By: Robert Cox
  1. Would you support a more involved public process to review and discuss the annual audited financials, perhaps incorporating a review of actual spending into projected spending? Explain.

Adina Berrios Brooks: As has been raised at the last few Board of Education meetings by many members of the public, having access to more updated, actual spending for the current year would be valuable in planning and budgeting for the upcoming academic year. In my current professional role I am part of a team that manages a $100M commitment to faculty diversity at Columbia University, and those experiences would serve me well on the Board of Education.

Katie Castellano Minaya: Yes, I would 100% encourage our district to involve the community more in understanding the budget, projected spending, and actual spending. And to that end, Mr. Kern, Assistant Superintendent of Business, has made sure every question that has come to the district related to the budget has been answered. This information has been shared at board meetings and also was made available online, in a form that is clear and readily understood. Taking these steps helps build more trust in the school system. Tax payers and residents deserve to know what the budget entails, and then the reality of spending as the year goes on. This does not mean to say that we are overstepping in our role as BOE members, but rather ensuring that information is shared widely to all stakeholders. Especially in a time of covid-impacted education, as priorities change and emergencies arise, keeping the community informed is of utmost importance. My advice to the district would be to include a budget update at each BOE meeting so that it is not just being discussed at one time per year.

Barbara D’Alois: While the budget process appears to attempt to bring transparency and understanding to the matter, it just does not bring it to a level that can be understood by the majority of the taxpayers. We can argue if it is intentional or not, but the bottom line is, it just doesn’t work in its current format. My expertise is not in finance and most taxpayers are in the same boat, so it would be important to have a presentation that clearly tracks where the money winds up as compared to where it was projected to go.

Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.

Stephen A. DiDonato: We need to have a budget that is understandable for everybody. There are mandated expenses that we have no say over, but there are ways that we can be open and honest about what we are spending. We need to be able to justify why that expenditure is beneficial.

Sharon D. Footes: Yes. I would support a more involved public process to review and discuss the annual financials. This lends to the transparency the public continues to ask for.

Matthew T. Hirschman: I believe that we have to trust the professionals hired to construct a budget that soundly allocates the necessary funds appropriately. We also have an obligation to present and share information in a way that the public can not just see, but understand. Not everyone is an accountant or actuary. The information and language should be understandable, transparent and accurate.

Michael Leone: The public does not need to be more involved in a review or discussion of the annual audited financials. Audits are conducted by outside professionals AFTER the budgeted money has been spent. Audits show whether or not the school district spent the money where it said it would spend the money. I have no reason to doubt the auditors’ results.

The district’s problem is in budget formulation. No one is looking at the benefits of the expenditures or whether they are effective. If the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent for Business are unable to make such analyses, then they either need to be replaced or the school district needs to hire financial consultants to conduct cost-benefit studies of what the district is spending on what.

The school district’s budget and its budget process have been a complete failure for years. The Board just rolls over core expenditures from year to year without question and then adds a few new bells and whistles to appease parents. This process is not acceptable. It lacks accountability, transparency, and prudent fiscal management. No one knows why we are spending what we are spending or whether what we are spending on specific resources and programs are actually beneficial. Audit of expenditures is not the problem. The budget needs to be revisited from ground up.

Timothy McKnight: Yes, I would support a more involved public process that is transparent. It’s important to see actual spending compared to projected spending so we have a better number to compare to when preparing the next year’s budget.

Mario A. Scarano: Yes. I would. My primary responsibility, after creating a nurturing and educational environment for the children of our school district, is to the taxpayers of our community. As a Board member I would seek to create the highest level of transparency possible. The act of involving the public in the most basic function of the BOE cultivates trust while discouraging waste and or fraud.

Julia Taylor: Yes, I would encourage transparency and community involvement. I am a firm believer that we should be presented with accruals instead of projections from previous years’ budgets. Taxpayers deserve to know how funding is allocated. The conversations around the budget need to happen frequently throughout the year.

Donald Vega: I support a full review of all the processes to make them far more transparent within the law, including the two-way communication between the education system and parents & students. The common frustration from the parents is lack of transparency and accountability. The budget that is being voted on is not going to be the budget in the fall (or whenever the school year starts). There will be cuts in state aid. Things are going to be turned upside down and the planning should be starting now.