School district to hire former upstate school district budget director cited for fiscal mismanagement while in office
The Riverhead Board of Education is due to vote tonight on hiring an assistant superintendent for business who was the Rochester City School District’s budget manager during a tax mismanagement scandal three years ago that left the district with a budget shortfall of almost $30 million, even after taking $15 million from its fund balance.
Rodney Asse, Rochester School District’s budget director from January 2017 until his resignation in September 2019, immediately after the multi-million deficit became public knowledge. The revelations sparked calls for an investigation and led to an audit by the Office of the State Comptroller, the appointment of a state comptroller And one Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. The Rochester District Chief Financial Officer resigned in November 2019 and the District Superintendent resigned in January 2020.
Since February 2021, Asse has been employed as a business manager in the former Tornatore district, Liberty K-12, in upstate Newburgh, where he was first hired on a day-to-day basis as an acting manager. district school affairs. He was hired into a permanent full-time position on June 1 and signed a one-year contract at a salary of $155,000.
Asse resigned from the Liberty School District on March 22, effective May 31.
According to tonight’s agenda, Asse will receive an annual salary of $190,000 at Riverhead, beginning July 1.
The State Comptroller’s Office found that Rochester’s adopted operating budget for 2018-19 was not structurally balanced, according to a audit report released in April 2020.
Council and district officials failed to use accurate appropriation estimates in the 2018-19 budget – severe under-budgeting and overspending on various major budget lines. Rochester’s audited financial statements for the period ending June 30, 2019 show that expenses exceeded revenues by $42.4 million, the audit report said. The enacted budget included a $20 million restricted fund balance in an effort to close the budget shortfall, according to the report. “However, the board amended this amount downward mid-year to $15 million, resulting in an unanticipated general fund shortfall of $27.4 million,” the report said.
“Due to District budgeting practices, the unrestricted general fund balance was completely depleted and at the end of 2019 showed a deficit of $8,916,640,” the Comptroller’s audit revealed.
The comptroller’s report did not blame the situation on any one official, including Asse, but said all budget appropriations “should have been reasonably estimated by the central district office,” the report said. The comptroller also noted that the district does not have a comprehensive written multi-year financial plan.
After resigning from Rochester, Asse was immediately hired by the Newburgh Enlarged City School District as assistant superintendent of finance. He served in the role for 11 months, beginning October 1, 2019. Asse tendered his resignation to the Newburgh board on May 18, 2020 and the board accepted it on May 20, 2020, effective August 29, 2020 There was no public discussion or explanation given by the council, according to the minutes of the council meeting.
In an interview today, Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said he understands there were issues with Rochester during Asse’s time as budget director, but said Asse was also not in load nor the final decision maker.
“There were issues with Rochester, but he wasn’t the best financier in the district at the time,” Tornatore said. “It would be very different if he was the deputy superintendent and in the superintendent’s cabinet, or if he was the superintendent.”
Tornatore said Asse had done “a fantastic job” at Liberty while Tornatore was superintendent there from February to June last year. Tornatore said he did not want to influence the district’s hiring committee in its decision to fill the position and said he gave his opinion after the entire hiring committee had already chosen Asse.
“All references we have spoken to have been checked. Also, he has a good reputation with other trade managers I have spoken with in the area, he has a good reputation with [the Association of School Business Officials] and he did a really good job,” Tornatore said.
Riverhead is seeking to fill a vacancy in the district’s senior business position created by the resignation of former assistant superintendent Sam Schneider in March, when he was hired as assistant superintendent of business in the East Hampton School District.
Schneider was hired by Riverhead as assistant superintendent of finance and operations in 2011 and promoted to assistant superintendent in 2016.
Last October, Schneider was “reassigned” out of the business office and the deputy superintendent position was abolished. He remained in the position of assistant superintendent, in accordance with his employment contract. The board hired an interim chief commercial officer last fall to fill Schneider’s role and, beginning Dec. 1, an acting deputy superintendent for finance, until June 30.
The board opened an investigation into unspecified allegations against Schneider, hiring law firm Volz and Vigliotta to lead the investigation. He also hired accounting firm Nawrocki Smith to carry out a forensic audit. To date, the district has paid the law firm $29,774.50 and the accounting firm $7,375, according to district treasurer reports.
Neither the board nor the superintendent provided further explanation for the actions, citing restrictions on staff confidentiality.
No charges were ever brought against Schneider. The school board has not yet accepted an audit report from Nawrocki Smith or publicly discussed the results of the audit.
A settlement agreement with Schneider signed by the district in January cited “certain differences” between him and the superintendent and the school board. The district agreed to pay Schneider its full compensation through June 30.
The agreement also includes a statement to be released to the press following Schneider’s resignation. The statement said, “The District has conducted an investigation into an allegation filed against Mr. Schneider by a District employee; the district determined that there was no valid reason to pursue this investigation.
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