A local taxpayer has filed a lawsuit against the East Meadow School District on the grounds that district officials overtaxed residents over a three-year period.
Marie Unapanta filed the suit in the Nassau County State Supreme Court on Dec. 21 after reviewing a February 2016 state audit, in which Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli accused the district of not adequately managing its budget.
According to the audit, the district overestimated expenditures by $29.4 million in the three years leading up to the 2014-2015 fiscal year. In doing so, the district hovered between a five and six percent unrestricted fund balance, which is the portion of the district’s fund balance it is allowed to retain at the end of the year. The legal limit, however, is four percent.
Unapanta’s suit requests that the district return to taxpayers the excess funds allotted during the three-year time period or use them toward future budgets, according to her attorney Richard Cronin.
“This lawsuit is premised on hopefully stopping a prolific practice . . . whereby school districts are in violation of the 4 percent reserve cap,” Cronin said. “It’s about making them accountable and holding them to this law.”
Cronin stressed that East Meadow is not the only school district in violation of this law, as the comptroller’s office has issued similar reports to numerous Long Island school districts. He said that he hopes the suit can set a precedent, especially amid the GOP tax plan that caps property tax deductions at $10,000.
With such high property taxes in Nassau County, Cronin said, “I think people are going to start taking a microscope to their school tax bill.”
While the district decline comment, former superintendent Leon Campo challenged the comptroller’s analysis after the audit was released.
He wrote in a letter to the comptroller that the district relied on its fund balance to aid student programs. Furthermore, “If the district routinely spent 100% of its projected expense budget, a practice which is not endorsed by any government agency, we would correctly be accused of mismanagement.”
The lawsuit also names the state education department and Commissioner MaryEllen Elia “because her role is to police and regulate school districts,” Cronin said. The commissioner also decline comment.