Photo: Yonkers school Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio, at Saunders High on Jan. 22 (David McKay Wilson/The Journal News)
Yonkers Inspector General Brendan McGrath on Thursday told Tax Watch he’d launched an investigation of the missing $55 million in the Yonkers school budget.
The investigation, begun at the behest of Mayor Mike Spano, comes a week after Spano announced that schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio would retire in 30 days.
Pierorazio, meanwhile, has declined to confirm whether he plans to follow through on what Spano said the city’s top educator told him last week regarding his decision to tender his resignation and leave city service in 30 days. He has remained mum all week as the district’s auditors prepare a report on the $55 million accounting error in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 budgets.
Interviews with city and state officials found that the school district counted so-called “spin-up” aid in the budgets that had not been authorized by the state Legislature. The discrepancy was flagged by auditor Nick DeSantis, the former Yonkers city manager. The office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also didn’t catch the error during its review.
“I’ve opened an investigation,” McGrath said in a telephone interview. “I’ll be seeking some records from the Board of Education. I’m going to review them and make a determination. I’ve gotten no resistance from the Board of Ed.”
District spokeswoman Maura Lamoreaux said: “As per your inquiry, the Superintendent said that he, of course, will cooperate with the Inspector General, as he always has in the past.”
Pierorazio has declined several requests from Tax Watch to discuss the financial problems, and the issue of his retirement. While he apparently told Spano he would retire, he doesn’t work for Mayor. He had yet to offer his resignation to the Board of Education, the entity for which he signed a four-year contract last year. He earns $260,000 a year.
Spano used Pierorazio’s reported resignation to launch his call for mayoral control of the state’s fourth-largest public school district. City Council President Liam McLaughlin joined with Spano in calling for the takeover, citing, in part, the financial straits the school district’s accounting practices has left the district in.
Spano was in Albany on Monday and Tuesday this week, seeking help from the state Legislature, where he served before winning the mayoral election in 2011. On Monday, he testified before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. On Tuesday, he huddled with officials in Governor Cuomo’s administration.
Here’s an excerpt from Spano’s testimony on Monday:
“The elephant in the room today is our school budget and the Board of Education’s $55 million overstatement that has buried Yonkers’ students and taxpayers almost overnight. This month I learned that Superintendent Pierorazio, who oversees Yonkers Public Schools with little-to-no financial oversight from the City, mistakenly accounted for spin-up aid in his 2012-13 and 2013-14 school budgets. It’s money that Superintendent Pierorazio accounted for in his budget, but its money that never existed.
The Board of Education’s budget error is the most immediate challenge facing our City and it requires immediate attention. Yonkers taxpayers alone cannot absorb the cost of this mistake –
$55 million dollars equates to a 17% property tax increase which the City doesn’t even have the constitutional tax authority to levy.
It would also be unfair for our students – who have already suffered from years of cuts to programs and teaching positions – to pay for the BOE’s error with even more cuts. We need help from the State. To that end, we are working with Governor Cuomo on possible solutions. Today I’m here to ask the Legislature to come to our aid.
Spano also told the Legislature that plans to submit home-rule legislation that would dissolve the Board of Education and allow his administration to run the district, with its $550 million budget.
“The immediate priority is to fill the hole, but we also have a responsibility to taxpayers, parents and students to ensure that these accounting errors don’t happen again. The time has come to change how we operate the Yonkers Board of Education
Later this year, I will ask the Legislature to pass School Governance Accountability in Yonkers that allows the City to absorb the BOE’s front office, finance and other non-educational operations. It just doesn’t make sense for Yonkers to have two law departments, two IT departments and two HR departments – one on the municipal side and one on the educational side – when we can put those functions under one roof and save millions of dollars in the process, while ensuring proper oversight, accountability and transparency.”