A school district in Wading River is owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by Suffolk County for tuition payments for special needs students that had built up over the course of 15 years, according to an audit conducted by the state comptroller’s office.
The Little Flower Union Free School District, located on North County Road, serves disadvantaged and special needs students through both day and residential programming. The district receives tuition from either the student’s home district or Suffolk County, but according to an audit released Nov. 20, the county still owed a sizable chunk of money.
The audit ran from July 1, 2014 to June 30, and at the conclusion of that period, the county owed Little Flower $572,141. The balance had been as high as nearly $850,000 in mid-May, though Suffolk paid about $275,000 to the district after Little Flower sent a letter in the spring seeking payment.
According to the audit, outstanding payments dated as far back as the 2000-2001 school year, and bills with Suffolk comprised “99 percent of the District’s accounts receivable.”
However, in a letter attached to the report, Superintendent Cynthia Stachowski wrote the amount due had further been paid down to $259,055 as of Oct. 31.
Suffolk County was one of a handful of partners that Little Flower did not have a written agreement with. According to the audit, Little Flower had contracts with 39 of 43 school districts or counties it works with.
On Monday, Ms. Stachowski said the issue arose from a “discrepancy in billing” between the county and the school district, which employs about 70 people and has about 120 students. However, she said, the two are working together to find a resolution.
“Suffolk County is our partner in providing services and care for our children,” she said. “I am very confident this issue will be brought to closure soon.”
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s report on the district recommended establishing written agreements with specific terms to ensure home districts and Suffolk County repay the school in a reasonable amount of time.
In her letter written in response to the audit, Ms. Stachowski wrote that the district will establish such a framework.
“Going forward the District will ensure that all contracts include payment terms and will obtain, to the extent possible, fully executed contracts with all sending districts and entities,” she wrote.
County Comptroller John Kennedy was not immediately available for comment.
Ten Special Act public school districts were created in New York State in the early 1970s to provide education to students with special needs. Little Flower is the only such district on Long Island. Its students live in cottages on the Wading River property, and they receive counseling and psychotherapy along with their education.