Friday, 17 May 2013 00:00
The North Shore District Reform group (NSDRG) was initiated on December 14, 2012, the day after our current Board of Education (BOE) dismissed more than 200 community members who passionately pleaded for a stay in their decision to enact the new Word Language Program. Only minutes after the many residents expressed their well-prepared and thoughtful concerns, our BOE announced their apparent pre-determined decision to unanimously accept the program, which added cost and a new language and was designed to increase language fluency, ironically by eliminating the Italian language in a community populated by more than one-third Italian Americans. As we informed our superintendent, what troubled us more than the new program details was the lack of attention and respect our BOE displayed to our residents. We felt that if our BOE even paused their decision for five minutes, left the room to discuss the weather, and returned with the same conclusion, then at least we would have believed that they listened and cared about our opinions. Instead, they voted 7-0 without hesitation and stuck to their agenda. As one of our own educators concluded, our BOE has become like many others, “singular in opinion and insulated from the people”.
By forming our group, our goal was to be an active voice in the community and be able to inform, represent and advocate for our residents on the many significant issues that affect our children, our schools, our property taxes, the value of our homes and our quality of life. After being presented the LIPA update at a BOE meeting by our district’s two well paid lobbyists, we felt the community needed to be more informed and involved so we organized and sponsored our own LIPA forum on February 26th where hundreds of our residents met with and expressed their concerns directly to our local senators and assemblyman regarding the impact of the Glenwood Landing LIPA Plant closure. We followed this event with a community letter campaign that delivered numerous persuasive communications to the governor on our behalf. Subsequently, two of our guests from our forum were instrumental in obtaining additional funding from NY State for our district- Sen. Carl Marcellino procured $2 million, and Assemblyman Charles Lavine another $500,000. These successful actions demonstrate our desire to mobilize and unify our community in order to make positive changes for our district. Our group continues to be active and investigate many other areas within our community where we can be of assistance.
We are often asked what our agenda is during this election process, the answer is simple- we want a BOE that behaves objectively, respectfully, and receptively when making decisions and takes into consideration the concerns of the very residents they represent. We want a BOE that evaluates new ideas transparently without predisposition and is able to communicate their opinions in a non-confrontational manner to the public. We are happy that this election offers many new candidates to choose from, but are concerned that our current BOE President is actively campaigning for particular board-mates. It does not seem appropriate for our current BOE president to use her political position to hand pick two candidates with signs on her lawn and even showcase one candidate on television when recently discussing the LIPA issue. If our BOE is truly responsible for representing our community globally and objectively on diverse policies, then why would they need to select their partners? Would the justices of the Supreme Court hand pick and campaign for their bench-mates? The only possible answer is that our current BOE intends to continue their history of quick, unanimous 7-0 decisions, as this allows ease of function and the ability to advance their policies without having counter opinions or alternative options to explore. Amazingly, there has not been a trustee elected to our BOE who was not sponsored by the existing BOE for 9 years, that cannot be a coincidence. Ironically, the only incumbent BOE member running for his seat this year acknowledged, at Meet The Candidates Night, that our current BOE has suffered an image problem and a transparency issue that needs repair. What better way to fix it than with new and independent people?
Michael Nightingale and Marianne Russo are those “new faces with new voices” who want to change that “business as usual” approach. These two candidates are both highly qualified and diversely experienced within our school district and, more importantly, they believe in changing the process to become more transparent, accessible and communicative with the residents. They believe that all BOE meetings should be recorded, for those who cannot attend, should offer public comments earlier, for those that cannot stay until 11 p.m., and that the BOE should vote on issues separately as opposed to hiding proposals amongst others, as was done with World Language Program. They feel the votes should rarely be 7-0, and want us to know who votes which way and is accountable to the residents when being evaluated for the next election based on their track record and not their lawn signs. This would be exactly how the Supreme Court of the United States operates, there must be a good reason!
While ultimately the individual issues are important, our agenda is not about one platform. Within our own board of directors we disagree daily and debate amongst ourselves with regard to the pros and cons of the various proposed programs, however, we continue to remain open- minded and become as informed as we can. What we all do want is a system that fosters trust, transparency and communal discussion. We are all about reforming the process of how our school board, superintendent and community work together, openly and honestly, to better our great school district. Contrary to our opposition’s rumors, we do not want to break the budget, instead we want to help make the budget complete while maintaining fiscal responsibility. We love our schools and want to see our children thoroughly educated and continue to succeed while allowing all our residents to be able to afford to remain in this district for years to come.
Vote for Michael and Marianne- new voices, new faces
The time has finally come, change is deeply needed.