Featured Story

New Suffolk board president says district in good financial standing despite comptroller report

New Suffolk Common School District has been placed on a list of New York school districts in fiscal stress for the second year in a row.

The district received a “moderate stress” designation for the 2018-2019 academic year from State Comptroller’s “fiscal stress monitoring system.” 

Board president Tony Dill said Thursday that the district first appeared on the fiscal stress list in January 2019, which accounts for the 2017-2018 academic year. 

In August 2017, the State Education Department ordered the district to reinstate Martha Kennelly, a former teacher placed on special assignment in 2015, to her classroom duties with $300,000 in back pay or two years-worth of salary and benefits.

Around that time, the district was on the precipice of closure due to the substantial additional costs related to the ruling. Just prior to releasing a public vote to close the school, the district and Ms. Kennelly came to a private agreement and the vote was canceled. 

That state ruling was decided less than a month before the school year began, Mr. Dill said, and the annual budget had not been adjusted for her reentry. For that reason, the district ran a budget deficit for the 2017-2018 school year and was labeled to have “significant stress” by the State Comptroller. 

Subsequently, Mr. Dill said, the district has removed itself from the budget deficit, passed a bond issue and paid off the debt from the proceeds of that issue. Last year, the district began to restore the accrued savings account that was depleted in 2018. 

“We have gone about it as best we can in terms of working our budget and staying within the cap,” he said. 

Mr. Dill said the district is currently in good financial standing, regardless of the comptroller’s label. 

Enrollment has also increased this year, with 19 students in grades pre-K through 6 attending classes. Students in grades 7 through 12 are transported to Southold School District. Approximately 15 students were enrolled last year.

The comptroller’s fiscal stress report, which has been released each year since 2013, measures fund balances, operating deficits and surpluses, additional cash funds, and use of short-term debt for borrowing. Seven other districts on Long Island made the list this year.

A district can fall under “susceptible,” “moderate,” or “significant” stress classifications based on financial reports they provided to the State Education Department. Districts receive no designation if their fiscal score falls below the established stress levels.

District superintendent and principal Phil Kent was not immediately available for comment.