The front of the building on Wantagh Avenue currently reads Richard N. Segerdahl Middle School in black lettering. Photo by Jaime L. Tomeo
The first hour of the Island Trees Board of Education meeting on Jan. 26 concentrated solely on the ongoing controversy surrounding the renaming of the Island Trees Middle School to the Richard N. Segerdahl Middle School.
According to the district clerk, the board voted unanimously to change the middle school's name at a June 30, 2004 meeting. Notification was published prior to the meeting in the agenda. A story also ran on the front page of the June 11, 2004 edition of the Levittown Tribune. The dedication ceremony was held on Oct. 23, 2004 before homecoming. It wasn't until a Sept. 26, 2004 board meeting that residents began vocalizing their disagreement on the board's decision. Opposition has only grown stronger since then.
Island Trees Board of Education President Robert Condela immediately established a protocol to be followed at Wednesday night's meeting. He asked that residents approach the board using a microphone and state their name and address before expressing their opinions.
Superintendent James Parla then began to discuss a forum which was compiled of community members both for and against the renaming. Parla said it was created in order to grasp a broader understanding of the public's concerns.
"I think the people would agree that it was constructive," Parla said. "I reported back to the board and gave them a summary of what was said at the meeting. A few members of the forum then got to meet with the board."
Parla began his tenure as superintendent after the school's renaming was voted on by the board. Although not involved in the decision itself, he has been involved in its aftermath all along.
"I have a lot at stake here in terms of moving the district forward," Parla said. "The board will continue to deliberate on the issue in order to come to a decision. Will everyone be satisfied, probably not, but we will address the needs."
Condela thanked those who served on the forum for giving up their personal time.
"At first we did a lot of listening and then we engaged in a lot of healthy dialogue," Condela said. "It was a group of ordinary community members just trying to do what is best for the community."
Another view of the building reads Island Trees Memorial School in white lettering. Photo by John and Diane Kirk
Many speakers addressing the board were met with applause at the meeting. A Satellite Lane resident was the first community member to speak. He inquired if the community would be able to vote on the decision.
"We make the decisions as informed community members," Condela explained. Parla added that the community, however, "will have input."
However, a resident of Hawk Lane said he thinks a vote is "the only solution" and it should be done by the "people who pay taxes in Island Trees."
Stating he has lived in Island Trees for over 58 years, a gentleman questioned the legality and process of changing the name of a school.
"The naming of a school is not a public event," explained District Counsel David Rubin. "The board of education can name a school anyway they choose to name it."
Dale Bertan, a 1968 Island Trees High School graduate and lifelong Island Trees resident, brought an original report card belonging to her brother from the 1967-68 school year. It read Island Trees Memorial School on top. Bertan also informed the board of a petition being passed around to residents wanting the school reverted back to the Island Trees Memorial School. Bertan, among others, claimed the board slighted veterans when they renamed the school.
"We did not take anything away from the veterans," Condela, a Vietnam veteran himself, replied.
Speaking on behalf of the Levittown/Island Trees Veterans Council, Andy Booth said the board "divided the community."
"You, the school board, is here to unite the community, not divide it," Booth said.
A Forge Lane resident was the last to speak about this issue. She commented that although she thought the board was wrong for changing the school's name, they were doing a wonderful job.
"My child is getting a great education and she has wonderful teachers," the resident said.
While the board has not made a final decision yet on the issue, Condela said they are considering all options and hope to have one by the next meeting.
"A formal presentation will be made at next month's meeting and the public will be able to make comments afterward," Condela said.
Parla expanded on Condela's explanation saying "after those comments are received, the board will deliberate as it has a responsibility to do."
The board continued on with the meeting, attending to business slated on the evening's agenda. They approved revised income taxes in regard to the eligibility level for senior citizens, persons with disabilities and limited income exemption. The maximum discount received is 50 percent and it applies to individuals with a combined household annual income of less than $24,000 per year.
This exemption will apply to the 2005-2006 School Tax Bills and 2006 Municipal Tax Levy for Nassau County. Such resolution shall be filed with the Nassau County Department of Assessment.
The external auditors for the Island Trees School District; Miller, Lilly & Pearce, LLP have resigned as of Jan. 14. According to Condela, "they are dissolving the firm." Coughlin, Foundotos, Cullen & Danowski, LLP have been retained as district auditors for the remainder of the 2004-2005 school year at an annual fee of $30,000.
"We also have an internal auditor who was appointed at the beginning of this year," Condela explained.
Progress being made in the search for a new principal for the Island Trees High School was the next issue discussed. While Dr. George Goldstein will continue as interim principal for the remainder of the 2004-2005 school year, the applicant pool has been narrowed down to two candidates. A final decision is expected by the end of the month and whoever is chosen will take over the position as of July 1.
"There are a lot of principal positions available on Long Island," Condela said. "We felt we got ahead of the curve by locking an individual in by February."
A parent not specifying which school she was talking about expressed concern about holiday parties held in the children's classrooms.
"They are teaching kids the truth about Chanukah and Kwanzaa, but are not teaching the truth about Christmas," the parent said.
Parla said he was unaware of this and would have to investigate. He asked the parent to contact his office with more information.
The next board of education meeting will be on Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Gallow School.