The upcoming bond referendum and a technology presentation created a full house at this week's board of education meeting. Dr. Laurence W. Aronstein, superintendent of Glen Cove Schools, told the numerous attendees that he urges all citizens to: "Come out and vote your conscience on Tuesday, Jan. 20."
The Jan. 20 referendum will determine if citizens want a $13.9 million bond that Aronstein says will function like a line-of-credit, enabling the schools to utilize funds on an as-needed basis in order to do approved and limited repair projects.
This came in response to the ongoing dialogue within the community on the vote, and began a lengthy question-and-response session between the administration, board of education and citizens of Glen Cove. Issues, accusations, concerns and clarifications abounded as the group voiced many different perspectives.
A board member, Joel Sunshine started the discussion, speaking not on behalf of the board but as a private citizen. In response to certain parties publicizing negative opinions on the bond referendum, he said it was "irresponsible" for people to say the bond would be a wasteful move.
"The ability to borrow is an asset," Sunshine said, asserting that his opinion was that the bond would be a sound business decision. "Our business has no debt ... we are wasting our good credit and reputation."
Sunshine accused past administrations of cutting budgets too much and taking no action for too many years on the neglected state of school buildings. He said the bond was the best way to deal with the situation as it is now.
"This is the hand that has been dealt us," he said, asserting his opinion that most of the repairs would have to be done either way within the next two years, which would increase the school budget and taxes more than the bond would.
The voices of opposition spoke to this point, questioning the validity of the need for some repairs. One vocal opponent, Rick Smith, specifically accused the recent school district's informational mailing on these issues to be untruthful. He said that details on the state of the bathrooms were false.
"No one on the board is telling lies to pass this," Doug Brown, board member, responded. Brown supported the information in the pamphlet, saying that the bathrooms did need the level of repair that has been publicized.
This led to a long and impassioned discussion about the state of school restrooms in general. Parents of current students asserted that they remember not wanting to use the bathrooms back when they were in school and now their kids are saying the same thing.
"The bathrooms are disgusting," Sunshine said, arguing that it sends a message to the students that no one cares about them.
The next major issue was on current and future maintenance of the buildings. Citizens questioned the school administration on whether they could be trusted to use the bond funds properly to make repairs and keep on top of maintaining the school once the repairs were made.
A parent brought up the fact that a section of gym flooring in the Landing School was recently installed incorrectly and after several months has not been fixed. He said he was concerned that when the school does spend money on projects they do not take care of those investments.
Another said that failure to clean drains and other poor maintenance made him question how future repairs would be taken care of as well.
"We do worry that things will be taken care of," said Donna Brady, president of the PTA Council. "What is the plan to handle the buildings?"
This led to assurances by the administration and board that the review process must improve for maintenance and better procedures are needed.
"The key is accountability," board president Dr. Kurt Schmeller said on the issue. "We will hold the administration accountable."
Aronstein said that, specifically, the contractor responsible for the gym floor will not be fully paid for the work until it is repaired. In general, he responded that the schools must do a better job.
Of his own staff, he said, "We will not tolerate personnel who cannot or will not do the job." He argued that because there has been insufficient money to maintain the schools, a lot of bad habits have been developed over the years.
He defended his own administration, saying that in 1992, 22 repair projects were identified as necessary. "By 2002, none had been done," he said, adding that four have been done so far under his watch.
The superintendent said the solution would involve using detailed work lists, to be reviewed on a weekly basis in order to ensure that all work is being done.
Gail Nedbor-Gross, board member, said that more regular reporting should be given to the board on these items as well.
Speaking to the common question of whether or not current staff can do more maintenance and repair work, Aronstein said no. He said that the vast majority of Glen Cove's maintenance staff are cleaners and some grounds people. They are not skilled to do the work needed. He added a side note that the schools have nine facilities and 191 acres of property to manage.