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Audit: BC made improper gifts to employees

School officials acknowledge some criticisms, say others are misplaced

A just-released audit from the state Comptroller's Office criticizes financial practices of the Bethlehem Central School District, saying gifts were given to employees in violation of the state constitution, best practices in purchasing services were not followed and that the district has improperly maintained a reserve fund for the better part of a decade.

In response, BC officials have both acknowledged some of the recommendations and dismissed others as shortsighted or misplaced.

The audit covers the period from July 1, 2009 to Aug. 4, 2010, and examines internal controls over budgeting and purchasing. Auditors spent eight weeks over last summer at the district, mostly poring over financial records.

Gift cards and meals on the public dime

Perhaps the most direct criticism in the report focuses on a May 14, 2010 staff recognition dinner at Normanside Country Club, during which 26 gift cards totaling $1,300 were handed out to retiring employees. Since they are not mementos and have cash value this was an improper action, according to the Comptroller's Office, as were free or discounted dinners for the 151 attendees.

"Because the staff recognition dinner was not held pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, the District had no authority to pay all or any portion of the cost of the meals consumed at the dinner and improperly expended $2,974 for that purpose," the report reads.

BC Superintendent Michael Tebbano said this annual dinner had been held for years to recognize retiring staff and faculty, who received the free meals and gift cards. In an interview today, he acknowledged the event did make a gift of public funds, but also defended the recognition ceremony as a modest measure that would be found at most any organization.

"I think it was a relatively minor way of saying 'thank you' to people," Tebbano said.

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