At the last New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board meeting it was announced that trustee Martin Cernese has resigned from the board.
The Illustrated News contacted Cernese who said he will be pursuing an educational consulting business and he felt that it would be a conflict of interest to remain as a school board trustee.
After the announcement the board had to decide whether or not to hold a special election for the position or to appoint a candidate who would then run on May 15, 2007 for re-election.
School board president Tricia Rudd pointed out to the board that to hold a new election would cost the district at least $10,000. A vote was taken and the board agreed unanimously to appoint a candidate rather than to hold an election. Rudd did mention that board vice-president, Robert Nugent, who was not present due to the loss of his wife, had expressed a desire to hold an election. However, the board voted to appoint a new trustee and that person would be named at the next meeting of the board.
At the request of community members, representatives from the Preferred Meals Systems, Inc. were at the meeting to give a report on the food plan voted on by the board at a previous meeting.
However, in an effort to give a little background as to why a meal system is being implemented in the district, New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board Superintendent Dr. Regina Cohn said, "In 2004, as childhood obesity was reaching high levels in the United States, President George W. Bush signed into law the Child Nutrition and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Reauthorization Act. While the original Childhood Nutrition Act of 1956 was aimed at improving children's health through school food programs, the new act focused on solutions that incorporate healthy habits, good nutrition and other wellness issues.
"As a mandatory portion of the act, schools have to create written policies that incorporate nutrition, education, physical activities and evaluation. These policies have to be formulated, approved and implemented before the start of the 2006-'07 school year. Our school district explored this project in the following ways: First we explored the options of setting up a lunch program in the schools. I reviewed the idea at PTA meetings. Second, we sought out companies that could bring all the equipment into our schools since we don't have kitchens. Representatives of the district including all PTA presidents, all principals, central administration and a board member visited Valley Stream to see a program in action. The District Wellness Committee including parents, faculty, nurses, community representatives and administrators developed a Wellness Policy that was presented to the board of education. The Wellness Policy was adopted by the board in June."
Superintendent Cohn continued, "The physical adjustments necessary in the lunchrooms for electricity, trash collection and other needs were calculated. Preferred Meals Systems, Inc., a company that could accommodate our needs, made a presentation at an Interschool PTA Meeting on March 29. The board approved a resolution allowing the district to go out to bid for a food program. Preferred Meals had the viable bid that was accepted by the board in July. The food program is designed to be financially self-sustaining. The final cost analysis was developed by Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael Frank."
Superintendent Cohn then turned the meeting over to the representatives for Preferred Meals Systems, Thomas Moran and Jeff Thomas, who then gave a history of Preferred Systems, Inc.
In stating the history of the company, it was established that they started their programs in 1967 in Chicago and they were so successful they expanded and are now in 252 school districts in 18 states from New Jersey to California.
Moran explained that each school would be supplied with a freezer, an individual oven similar to a microwave oven, dollies to carry the food, carts and baskets. The meals will be delivered frozen in a truck from the company and stored in the freezer. Each meal will be covered with cellophane covering, on a tray that is disposed after the meal is consumed. The cellophane is only removed by the student when he/she is ready to eat the meal. All foods, it was explained, meet the health department standards.
In the open portion of the presentation some parents were concerned that in the opening of the package steam might emit and burn the student but Moran assured the parents that was not the case since the meal was never heated at a temperature that hot.
Each meal will be heated for approximately 20 minutes and Preferred Meals Systems, Inc. will instruct the cafeteria staff in each school as to how best to coordinate the cooking process.
All the menus will be nutritionally balanced and will change daily. They will include a main dish, a side dish of perhaps fruit along with low fat regular milk or 2 percent chocolate milk. The cost for the lunch program will be $2.25. Further, it was mentioned that if 60 percent of the children do not take advantage of the program it would most likely be suspended.
After the first month, a survey of foods would be taken and the foods most preferred by the students would remain on the menu, the others removed.
Many, many parents expressed allergy concerns as to whether or not the food was being prepared with peanut oil. At this point Moran stated that refined peanut and soybean oils are safe for allergic individuals because they do not contain protein. At this point many members in the audience were very skeptical and expressed their concern.
Moran handed out a memo stating that peanut and soybean oils are safe, but that didn't satisfy the group.
Superintendent Cohn interjected that any parent who is concerned about allergies should not subscribe to the food plan and those children should instead bring lunch from home.
Resident Nancy Sharvin, who has been involved in food service, expressed concern about loss of electricity due to storms, etc. that often happens in this area and she inquired as to what would happen to the food in the freezer. Moran explained that since the distribution center is only about 30 minutes away, the food would be replaced if such a mishap should occur.
Further, it was pointed out that milk and juice will still be provided for students who do not take advantage of the lunch program and at the same price. However, ice cream will not be available, but if on occasion a PTA wants to hold an ice-cream fundraiser, that would probably be permitted.
At the end of the very long discussion, regarding every phase of the food service and how it will be delivered, it was pointed out by Dr. Cohn that the lunch program would not be ready to start until the beginning of October due to the fact that the cafeteria staff has to be trained before the plan can be implemented.
The board voted to accept a donation in memory of John Smiley who was the school board trustee from 1982 to 1993 and who was the board president from 1989 to 1993. A map will be donated but the location has not been determined but will be announced at the September meeting.
Further the Notre Dame CYO has donated portable baskeball hoops to the district and the placement of the hoops will be determined by the director of facilities.
A very long discussion ensued when the board approved two revised policies regarding sexual harassment. The first was Policy No. 6121, the Sexual Harassment of District Personnel and the second was the Sexual Harassment of Students Policy No. 7551. It was the first reading for both revised policies and they were both approved.
Residents objected to approving a policy on the first reading. However, Dr. Cohn explained that the policies must be approved prior to holding workshops with school personnel regarding the policies. Cohn explained that the polices have been reviewed by school board attorney Richard Nicolello, who made slight revisions and they were approved by the board.
Further, Policy No. 8260 - Parental Involvement for Title I, was also adopted and Dr.Cohn explained that this policy had to be approved prior to the audit of the school Title I program.
According to Dr. Cohn, forms to be submitted to community organizations for use of the facilities have been changed. She said, "the forms have been changed to include the insurance information of the requester on the form. The forms will then be brought to the director of facilities for approval and then forwarded to the principals of the school involved for date clearance and then to the superintendent's office for approval and to the school board for approval.
Rudd wanted to know if the organizations that usually use the facilities have been notified of the new procedure. Dr. Cohn said that a meeting will be held in the next two weeks with those organizations and the new forms will be distributed to them at that time.
Rudd announced that there would be a new procedure used, starting with the September meeting, for the community comments portion of the meeting. Community members will be asked to fill out an index card stating the question they want to present. One set of questions will relate to the agenda items and the other for all other questions. The index cards will then be given to the district clerk and then she will call on the community members to address the board. The cards may be filled out during the meeting. Plus, she requested that anyone who is speaking to fill out a book that is at the podium. Further, questions will be limited to three minutes.
A resident expressed her surprise at the board approving policies after a first reading. She said that no one is able to read three policies the night of the board meeting. She said she feels it necessary, if a policy is changed, to note the changes and to give the public, at least from meeting to meeting, time to read the policy and perhaps then comment on it.
Resident Annette Giarratani wanted to know what the approval for Intensive Classroom Support (ICS) Professional Staff Development Workshop entailed. Dr. Cohn explained that the classes were held for special education inclusion teachers.
Giarratani also questioned several items on the agenda including the days of religious observance. She suggested that perhaps those items might be included on the agenda to make it easier for the public to follow.
Further she said she was in complete agreement with the former speaker who questioned the passing of the three policies with no prior reading of the policies. She said, "Our policy states that a policy must have three readings since I am very suspicious by nature and, in this climate that we are in, I find it difficult to digest the fact that we have Sexual Harassment of District Personnel and, what is the rush? I also have a legitimate concern of why this is being pushed through just to make the administration aware of the policy. If I had a child in school I would go ballistic to know that the Sexual Harassment of Students Policy was being pushed through. In all the years that I have been attending meetings, and it is close to 35 years, I have never seen anything with this magnitude being pushed through by the board. As a resident sitting in the audience, this does not look good."
Attorney Nicolello then took the mike and said, "First of all there is nothing in writing that says the board has to have three readings of any policy, in respect to the sexual harassment policies. We have had policies in place for at least a dozen years that cover sexual harassment and it only really mentions employees of the district. In the interim, there have been many instances where schools have been sued for sexual harassment of students either by staff or by student against student. The fact that those districts did not have specific policies that dealt with harassment of students exposed those districts and the taxpayers to judgments of specific amounts of money. I, therefore, encourage adoption of these policies as soon as possible. It is one area that we would be spending tens of thousands of dollars just because we didn't have those policies in place. Just because we approved these policies does not mean this closes the process. If someone comes to us with a legitimate suggestion or an idea or that something is wrong with these policies we would be open to change the policies. Therefore, it was my opinion to move on these policies."
Giarratani continued her complaint that the policies should not have been approved after only one reading and she further said that it was her recollection that three readings were required.
Mildred Tassone asked that the board make their e-mail addresses available so that the public could communicate with individual board members. Further, she suggested that the menus of the food service be put online for the week, as well as school policies. The suggestion will be taken under consideration.
There will be a special meeting at Hillside Grade School to discuss the YMCA before and after school program which will run from 7 to 8 a.m. in the morning and then children will be picked up by YMCA buses and taken to their individual schools.
Nancy Sharvin also said that, in the past, school boards asked anyone interested in being on the school board that they submit a resumé to the board.
It was also mentioned that if the board does not find a candidate to replace Cernese within a stipulated amount of time, BOCES has the right to appoint someone to the board. Nicolello said he doesn't know if they have ever done that but it is a very remote possibility.
After a very long meeting the board finally adjourned. The next meeting will be held on Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. at the Manor Oaks School.