Written by Margaret Whitely Friday, 22 January 2010 00:00
At the last meeting of the New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board, held at the Garden City Park School, the first portion was dedicated to hearing the “wish lists” of the residents on what they would like to see incorporated into this year’s budget.
At the outset of the meeting, school board president Ernest Gentile said he would like to thank all the public officials who voted to repeal the Energy Tax. He said it was just another unfunded mandate that would have resulted in a very heavy burden on the district.
He then opened the meeting for comments, by the public, on what they would like to see included in this year’s budget and he imposed a three-minute time limit on each speaker.
He also reminded those in the audience that the board would not be responding to any of the suggestions, but rather it was there to just listen.
President Gentile then gave the dates of the rest of the budget work sessions, which will start at 7:30 p.m. and they are: Jan. 25, Feb. 22 and a March date that may have to be rescheduled, so that date will be announced at a later date.
The first person to speak was a representative of the Manor Oaks Parent Teacher’s Association (PTA). She said that they sent out a questionnaire to all PTA members for them to list their concerns for the Manor Oaks School.
The No. 1 item listed by all the PTA parents at the Manor Oaks School was the bathrooms; the bathrooms on the first floor, second floor, the nurses bathroom and the kindergarten bathroom. Further, she, “The paint is constantly peeling off all of the bathrooms mentioned.” She said they were the original bathrooms of the school. She said she wasn’t sure but she was told that the bathrooms in the other schools have been updated.
She also mentioned that another concern was the kindergarten playground area at Manor Oaks. She said, “Plus every time it rains, it floods and we suggest that rubber mats be placed there. Right now woodchips are there and the children can’t use the playground.”
She concluded, “These items were listed by the parents of Manor Oaks, and we would appreciate it if you would consider them when you are making up the budget.”
Another parent of Manor Oaks School, said he was part of a discussion in the spring regarding class size. He said the ratio of children to teachers is the biggest concern. He said, “I only wish I had been more knowledable last spring regarding other school class sizes. But, it has been brought to my attention that the class sizes at Manor Oaks in grades five and six include 28, 29 and 30 students in a class. Last spring, my son was in a class with an awkward number. The class was too big for two classes and too small for three classes. Not just my son’s class, but any class, in the district to be a great school district, you can’t have such large class sizes.
“My other thought was to do away with clinics, that are in place to avoid having children identified, and they are very expensive. That money would be better spent in downsizing class sizes.”
The comments from the public ended and the regular meeting began.
Garden City Park Principal Jim Svendsen welcomed the residents and gave a brief outline of all the events the Garden City Park students had been involved in since the beginning of the school year. He particularly mentioned how helpful the installation of SMARTBoards has been to the students and how it has enhanced the education of all the students attending the Garden City Park School.
He also mentioned a new reading program that has recently been instituted entitled “Read for The Gold” to encourage reading at home. The students will be awarded with Olympic flames as they reach each goal.
He concluded that he is very proud of the teaching staff and their dedication and also of the parents who are so involved with their children’s education.
Trustee Patricia Rudd reported that the Nassau/Suffolk Boards Association has long-since contended that New York State Charter School Law constitutes a threat to public education.
She said, “Regarding Finance: The position of the Nassau/Suffolk Boards is that public funds should support core public education and not be diverted for private school vouchers, tuition tax credits or toward the expansion of services and financial assistance to private, parochial and charter schools.
“Regarding Local Authority: Relieve communities of the mandate to turn over local tax dollars to state-imposed, for-profit charter schools that are not locally accountable.
“Restore a moratorium on the establishment of new charter schools by the State Education Department and the State University of New York.
“Hold charter schools to the same standards and accountability as traditional locally supported public schools and evaluate these schools annually; authorize audits by the state comptroller.”
Rudd said, “As of the now, the Appellate Court has reserved the right of the state comptroller to audit charter schools, but the decision is being appealed.”
Rudd agreed that funding the charter schools is a problem to the public school and one that she will report on as soon as she has further information.
She also asked school board assistant for business Michael Frank the status of state aid and he said that at this time the state aid has been deferred, but he said the district should be getting money, but it’s just a “matter of time.”
Rudd also asked if the MTA tax is being increased for this year and Frank said that he has not heard anything in terms of an increase.
Trustee Annette Giarratani then gave a tribute to former publisher and editor of local newspapers in New Hyde Park, James DeGraff Carr. She said that when he owned the paper he was always at school board meetings and he was very supportive of the schools in New Hyde Park and she offered condolences to his wife Marie and to his family.
Giarratani then went on to her report as a member of the BOCES budget committee. She said there were two meetings set prior to the February board meeting and she would report on those meetings at that time.
Giarratani then said a New York Times article stated that since Long Island was such a wealthy community and wealthy enough to absorb the tax burdens of other school districts, that has low incomes.
Giarratani said, “Long Island is expected to bear unfair local tax burden in order to protect the commitment for high performing public schools. Long Island’s disproportionate share of the school aid is wrong and this is a reality. The state funds include 42 percent of education statewide. However, Long Island receives less than 26 percent of state aid. This is a far cry from last year and the year before when members from this board and other members of other boards, from Nassau and Suffolk, went to Albany and cried out that we want our fair share especially those in down state districts.“While reductions in school funding can be anticipated our elected representatives cannot be expected to ignore or tolerate a reduction of our aid. Therefore, I would encourage everyone to be vigilant about this. Do not hesitate to speak to an elected official or write or call and tell him or her that we are entitled to at least our fair share.
“New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli stated that the state cash resources are at an all-time low, after making a $1.3 billion Medicaid payment and $2.2 billion to STAR and school-aid payments.”
She mentioned that this might result in an 8 percent property tax hike, when the stimulus monies are depleted.
Trustee David Del Santo said, “I would also like to remind everyone that this process is going on at the high school level with their next meeting scheduled on Jan. 25.”
The report from New Hyde Park/Garden City Park school board superintendent Robert Katulak was then delivered and that report was in The Illustrated News issue of Jan. 15 on Page 10 and it centered on the ongoing budget process and the anticipated cut in state aid, since the state is in such a dire financial situation.
The board also approved the second reading of policies for adoption and listed policies for a first reading to be voted on at the next board meeting.
The board also approved the proposed Read 180 Program including all the software connected with the program.
When the vote was called for approval of the monies for the Race to the Top, trustee Patricia Rudd said she was very skeptical of the program, but it was voted through anyway.
New Hyde Park Little League President Thomas Pellegrino said that he had already received a permit for gym use, but he said that he received another letter stating he had to resubmit a request for permits for the gym.
Superintendent Katulak addressed the board members and said, “It was agreed by this board that the permits would be valid through the end of January and then would have to be re-submitted again in February.”
Pellegrino said, “My question is this, I have a permit from October to April for the gym and I was recently told that my permit was not valid until April.”
Katulak said, “There must have been a misunderstanding regarding the indoor permits and the field permits.”
Trustee Del Santo said that the situation would be researched and that he would be notified.
Further, Pellegrino said he would like to ask the board to look into having safe, organic weed control products on the grounds. He said that they would not have a problem paying for them, but he said it was frustrating putting money into the fields and having the weeds back by June.
Katulak said that any organic products would have to be purchased from a state contract for these products. He said, “Unfortunately, we have to adhere to the state contracts for any such items.”
Diana Ricardi, representing the Wildcats organization and she said she, too, was at the meeting to discuss the permit situation.
She presented to the board a pile of papers, all used to submit permit requests. She said, “It’s been five times now that I have had to submit and then resubmit permits for the different schools and for different times. It’s getting a little ridiculous. The letter also states that we must apply for permits for next fall, winter and spring, we must apply by May.”
Vice President Joseph Bongiomo said that the board has had so many requests for gym time that a special plan had to be worked on. He said, “After working on this, I think we have a plan in place now that will start next July. I apologize for this. We ran into a very complicated situation this year.”
Ricardi said, “We have deadlines for the traveling teams. I have voiced this concern several times. For instance, when we start playing in September the schedule is completed in August. Now, I don’t know about the games that have already been scheduled.”
Katulak said, “This was not an attempt by the board to thwart anyone from playing either in the gyms or on the outdoor fields. Rather, it is an attempt to make the use more equitable so that everyone can use the facilities.”
Michelle Chambers questioned the policy on the qualifications of bus drivers. In the policy it states that a driver has to be at least 21 years of age and be issued a valid operators or commercial driver’s license that is valid for the operation of a bus in New York State.
Chambers said, “I do not think a 21-year old has enough experience to become a bus driver at this age. They basically do not have enough maturity to be able to handle a bus at this age.”
Superintendent Katulak said that if a person was not hired due to age, the district could be sued for ‘age discrimination.’
Board president Gentile said that all hiring was at the discretion of board superintendent Katulak.
Superintendent Katulak said, at the end of the meeting, to please remind residents that the next budget input and regular meeting would be held on Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Grade School, 150 West Maple Drive, New Hyde Park. He urged all residents to attend and to participate by lending their ideas and thoughts to the budget process.