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Elmont UFSD susceptible to fiscal stress, comptroller reports

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The Elmont Union Free School District is one of 22 districts across New York State deemed to be susceptible to fiscal stress, according to a report released by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli based on data reported to his office from the 2019 - 20 fiscal year, when school districts everywhere had to suddenly switch to distance learning to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

Nine others were considered to be in fiscal stress during this time, meaning that they did not have enough cash available to meet their operating expenses. Nearly half of these districts, DiNapoli reported, were reliant on short-term cash flow debt — such as revenue anticipation, tax anticipation, budget and deficiency notes — to help pay for these expenses, which could indicate that their budgets were imbalanced.

“This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt school district operations and finances,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “I urge school district leaders to closely monitor their financial conditions, even if their financial stress scores were low in the early days of the crisis.”

The Elmont school district, he reported, was listed as “susceptible to fiscal stress” due to the district’s low unassigned fund balance in the fiscal year ending on June 30. Unassigned funds are a district’s “rainy day fund” because they can be used to cover any expenses that arise, as opposed to a district’s reserve funds, which are appropriated for specific uses.

In 2019, the comptroller’s report states, the Elmont school district had $3.4 million in unassigned funds, which could cover about 4.2 percent of the district’s expenditures that year, but in 2020, the district had just $1.55 million in unassigned funds, which could only cover about 1.83 percent of the district’s expenses.

The district also had nearly $86.3 million in revenue in 2019, with $4.5 million in short-term cash flow, and $86.9 million in revenue in 2020, with $5 million in short-term cash flow.

“The comptroller’s indication that the Elmont School District may be ‘susceptible to fiscal stress’ is accurate, as the economic impact of the pandemic has strained schools, governments, businesses and individuals,” Elmont Superintendent Kenneth Rosner said in an emailed statement to the Herald.

In August, the New York State Budget Division disclosed that it had begun withholding aid to school districts in an effort to manage cash flow during the pandemic. The 20 percent reduction in foundation aid resulted in school districts across the state missing out on some $300 million for the fiscal year, but Budget Division officials announced earlier this month that they expect to pay most of these funds back in the current fiscal year, which, DiNapoli said, can help mitigate some of the risk of fiscal stress.

In the meantime, Rosner vowed that the Board of Education “will continue to plan and take measured actions to continue its tradition of excellence in education and accountability to its tax payers” as the district develops its budget proposal for the 2021 - 22 school year, noting that the district decreased property taxes by 1 percent in the current budget, and has only increased the annual tax levy by less than 1 percent over the past five years.