The Mineola Board of Education meeting started on a light note last week as tenure was granted to five administrators, but when it came time for public comments, attention was turned to litigation matters.
Currently, the superintendent of schools is suing the board vice-president for defamation of character. The board vice-president successfully sued the board of education. In addition, the superintendent's former secretary is suing the superintendent and the deputy superintendent who is slated to become the next superintendent on July 1 for creating a hostile work environment. There has been so much litigation in the district recently, a scorecard might help.
One legal issue has been resolved recently and that was board vice-president Laraine Salvatore's motion against the board for not providing for her legal defense against the superintendent's lawsuit.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Larry Licopoli, who is retiring on June 30, is suing Salvatore for defamation of character due to comments she made during her evaluation of the superintendent.
Salvatore asked the board to provide a legal defense for her since she was acting in her capacity as a board member when she made the evaluation. When a motion was made to pay Salvatore's legal expense, the board was split 2-2 with Salvatore not voting because of the conflict of interest.
Board president Steve Siwinski and board member John McGrath voted against a motion to provide the legal defense. Salvatore was forced to sue the board and a judge recently ruled that the board must cover Salvatore's defense, meaning the defense against the superintendent's lawsuit will be paid with public dollars.
McGrath, who is running for re-election next month, said he disagreed with the judge's decision and said he stands behind his vote not to provide a legal defense to the board vice-president. "I didn't feel she was acting within the scope of her employment," said McGrath, adding that Salvatore never provided proof that Dr. Licopoli harassed employees who were friends of hers or took off some Fridays without adjustments to time sheets.
Board member Terry Hale voted to provide a defense for Mrs. Salvatore. "I think, as a board, we should stick together," he said.
Board member Hornberger, who also voted to provide a defense, pointed out that the focus of the board of education and central administration should be on educating children. "Lawsuits are not what the board of education and central administration should be focusing their energy on," he said.
The judge's recent decision commits the board to pay for Salvatore's legal expenses from the time the defamation lawsuit was filed to the conclusion of the case. However, it does not obligate the board to pay for damages if Salvatore were to be found liable.
In just over two months, Dr. Licopoli will no longer be an employee of the school district. He decided to retire from his post as the superintendent of schools after a motion to extend his contract failed to pass. The superintendent filed a defamation lawsuit against Salvatore because he felt the comments she made about him were untrue, although she stands behind them. He felt her comments damaged his reputation and a legacy in Mineola he worked hard for.
He said his goals that he feels were accomplished during his tenure as superintendent include advancing student achievement, changing the landscape of the school system, developing the schools in a uniform manner and securing financial stability for the school district through efforts such as recovering state aid and securing revenue from a lease agreement with Nextel.
"You'll always have a legacy here. You put us in a good spot," Hale said to Dr. Licopoli.
Hale could have extended Dr. Licopoli's contract. Last year, the motion made by McGrath to extend the contract received support from Siwinski, but Salvatore and Hornberger voted against the motion. With Hale being the deciding vote, he abstained on the motion. With a 2-2 deadlock, the motion failed. The board instead, on a motion by Hale, hired deputy superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler at almost $65,000 less than Dr. Licopoli would have been paid.
On the recommendation of Dr. Licopoli, the board of education granted tenure to Hampton Street School Principal Dr. SueCaryl Fleischmann, Jackson Avenue School Principal Matt Gaven, assisant business administrator Maureen Judge and assistant superintendent for finance and operations Jack Waters.
The Mineola School budget vote and trustee election will be held on Tuesday, May 19 between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. Residents of the district will vote in their local elementary school building - Hampton Street School, Jackson Avenue School, Cross Street School or Meadow Drive School.
The 2009-2010 budget of $79,239,241 that will be put before voters calls for a 1.17 percent spending increase and a 2.45 percent increase in the tax levy, which is the amount of the budget to be raised by taxes.
There are two seats open on the board of education. Chris Napolitano will be running for the seat that was occupied by Steve Siwinski, who is retiring from the board. She will be running unopposed.
John McGrath will be running for his own seat. He is being challenged by Kathy Darmstadt.