MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Mahopac Central School District is in danger of losing millions of dollars in state aid if local state lawmakers can’t pass a special bill in time that would forgive penalties incurred as a result of a missed cost report filing for a capital project that was due during the 2011-12 school year.
“It was a host of projects, not just one,” said Harvey Sotland, assistant superintendent for business affairs, who was not on staff at the time of the error. “It was a bundle of energy performance contracts that were being done in conjunction with Con Edison. Virtually every building was touched by it. That project ended in 2010-11.”
But, Sotland explained, at the end of every capital project, school districts in New York must send a final cost report to the state Education Department.
“All it really is is a summary of all the expenditures by contractor and by trade,” Sotland said. “It’s a prescribed form they give us that we have to fill out. It’s nothing complicated.”
Still, the Mahopac administration, led at the time by Superintendent Thomas Manko, neglected to file the paperwork.
“When I came on board in July, I was looking at some reports that the state had posted online on their website and I noticed there was a slew of projects that had no final cost report filed,” Sotland explained. “So, I knew right away if that happened to be the truth, then we were in jeopardy at some point with [the state] catching up with us and us losing aid and having to repay [money] we’d already received. We wanted to be transparent. I reached out to the state and verified they didn’t receive [the reports] and that really set things in motion.”
Sotland filed the reports, albeit eight years late, and then reached out to state Sen. Pete Harckham and Assemblyman Kevin Byrne to help get the special legislation passed that would forgive the district’s error.
“There’s no reason to penalize a school district, its students and taxpayers so severely with a state aid take-back for filing errors made by a former administration,” Harckham said. “I’ve introduced legislation that will forgive the Mahopac Central School District for the missed filings so they can receive the state building aid they were promised and will fight to ensure it is passed.”
The bill would allow for the submission of the paperwork without incurring any hardship on the school district.
“It’s a specific bill for us,” Sotland said. “You don’t have to pay back what you got, and then not receive what you still haven’t gotten. We haven’t been penalized yet, but it’s coming. It’s a little bit of a race in that if [the state] catches up first, if they get the paperwork done, they will notify us and start penalizing us. But if the bill passes before that happens, it will be a great thing.”
Sotland said if the penalties go through, Mahopac will have to pay back the money it has received to date over a 10-year period—about $3 million. It will also be ineligible for any further aid on those projects.
“Each year we would be impacted by close to $700,000,” he said.
Sotland said he remained hopeful that the legislation would pass in time.
“We are always optimistic,” he said. “And we are grateful to Sen. Harckham and Assemblyman Byrne for helping us out.”
Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo said it was unfair to punish students and the community for a mistake that was made so long ago.
“We are hurting students, teachers, programs and the community for an error in filing a state report from eight years ago,” he said in a statement. “I thank Sen. Harckham for his time and support of this legislation that will have an impact not only this year but for several budgets moving forward.”