MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A paperwork faux pas made by Mahopac School District officials nearly a decade that would have cost taxpayers nearly $6 million in lost state aid has been forgiven.
The district discovered the error regarding a capital improvement project last year and self-reported that certain paperwork had never been filed. The district was then at risk having to return millions of dollars in state aid it had received for the project and would be barred from receiving any more funding.
State Sen. Pete Harckham and Assemblyman Kevin Byrne both help craft bills last year that would have forgiven Mahopac’s debt; however, Gov. Cuomo vetoed that legislation.
On Thursday, April 2, Harckham announced that this time he was able to successfully place into the 2020-21 state budget a provision that forgives the school district for the administrative error.
“I want to sincerely thank Gov. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for their willingness to incorporate Mahopac penalty forgiveness into the budget,” said Harckham. “This would not have happened without their willing partnership. In this incredibly stressful economic climate, the burdens on school districts and taxpayers are even more pronounced, and so I am pleased to have helped in this regard.”
Harckham said the Mahopac schools were unfairly singled out for paperwork mistakes made nine years ago.
“The financial penalties were going to end up affecting taxpayers, students and district administrators who were not even in the district when the mistakes occurred,” the senator said. “Getting this right for Mahopac residents was a big priority for me.”
The forgiveness provision was negotiated by Harckham into the Education, Labor and Family Assistance Article VII Legislation (ELFA) section of the 2020-21 New York State Budget.
“From the moment this administrative error was identified, and we self-reported it to the state, I have been working closely with district administrators, the Board of Education, and Sen. Harckham to rectify the situation,” said School Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo. “Our approach has been to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and communicate transparently with the community every step of the way.”
DiCarlo said he was delighted with this outcome, which unburdens the taxpayers and positions the administration to build a budget for next year and the near future that both supports the needs of the community and ensures the caliber of education to which the community is committed.
“I thank the senator for his partnership and his commitment to seeing this situation through to resolution. This is a great day for Mahopac,” DiCarlo said.
Last year, the Mahopac School District sought forgiveness for administrative errors during the 2011-12 school year that led to incorrect information being submitted for eight capital improvement projects that received state funding. Upon learning that the errors made, the district also was notified that it would have to repay $3.1 million it has received so far for building projects. In addition, the district would no longer be eligible for $2.7 million of funding promised by the state for the projects.
Harckham noted that when the state changed the application process in 2011 for school districts applying for building aid there was some confusion, and several districts submitted applications with errors. Because the monetary penalty for Mahopac’s error was significant enough to force the district to seriously reconsider spending priorities in the upcoming years, and possibly cut staff or programs, Harckham introduced legislation that would grant the district forgiveness.
“In this case, two wrongs were definitely not going to make the situation right,” Harckham said.
The Mahopac school’s forgiveness bill was passed by the state legislature in 2019 but vetoed last November. Harckham promised the district he would keep up the fight and re-introduced the legislation this year. During the deliberations on the state budget, Harckham was in Albany and able to get the necessary provision added to the ELFA.
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