The Oyster Bay-East Norwich election is going to be an interesting race. There are three candidates vying for two seats on the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Board of Education, incumbents James Smiros and James Robinson and challenger Ann Marie Longo. The OBEN Meet the Candidates Night is scheduled for Monday, May 8 at 7 p.m. at the Oyster Bay High School. The election, scheduled for May 16, was the focus of a recent "stay order" the district received on Friday, April 28 from New York State Department of Education Commissioner Richard Mills at the request of Oyster Bay Cove resident Diane Eckel.
OB-EN Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington said the objective of the notice is to stop a May 16 high school concert, the SEPTA bake sale and using the district's automated phone system to remind parents to vote. Dr. Harrington said, "We fully intend as planned, to hold the concert and bake sale. It is very common practice for school districts to hold activities that will bring people out [to vote]. You can't solicit people on how to vote, but any concert is open to any member of the public and a bake sale is not a closed event."
As to using the automated phone system, Dr. Harrington said after the April 25 public meeting ended the board discussed using the automated phone system to remind voters of the May 16 vote and decided not to use it, after it was bought up at the meeting by Ms. Eckel and before receiving the stay order.
The subject of the automated phone system in relation to the budget was brought up at the April 25 board of education meeting. Ms. Eckel questioned how residents would be notified of the budget vote. OB-EN Board President James Smiros said that the new budget brochure will be received by the district on May 2 and will be mailed out on May 3. It contains a summary of information on the budget that was adopted on April 4.
At the meeting, Ms. Eckel also wanted to know about the district's new automated phone system. She asked if it would be used to remind people of the budget vote.
Mr. Smiros said the computer software was installed a month ago to communicate with parents on safety and security and to remind them of parent-teacher conferences, snow days, emergencies or when a building is closed for some reason. It was not used for the bond vote because it was not in place at that time. He said they planned to use it to remind people to vote on May 16. Dr. Harrington added that there would be no comment on how to vote, just a reminder to vote.
Dr. Harrington explained in a telephone interview on Monday, May 1, "We had decided after the meeting, that we would save the PTA representatives the work of staffing the phones since the question was voiced publicly at the meeting [by Ms. Eckel]."
She said using the equipment doesn't cost the district any additional money, and added, "We just wanted to let the PTAs have one less chore. They have enough work to do."
At the April 25 meeting Richard MacDougall asked why they were not calling every resident when using the automated phone system. The board responded that they would only call parents of children in the district because, "We do not have the phone numbers of all the residents of the district."
The board said to alert residents of the May 16 vote, the budget brochure is mailed to all homes in the district; the referendum is advertised four times in both local newspapers; a notice is sent to the entire district six days prior to the vote; it is also on the district website.
During the Community Comments time at the meeting, Ms. Eckel also asked if Sidney Freifelder, interim assistant for business is paid when she is working from home. Dr. Harrington said, "She is not paid when working from home, but she does use her own time to make phone calls and send emails. The taxpayers should be thanking her."
Dr. Freifelder explained she is presently retired. She is contracted to work three days a week and sometimes works for five days in a row and then takes a week off.
In an interview, Donald Zoeller, who had said he was interested in running for the school board said he decided against it. He said, "If I run against Mr. Robinson and Mr. Smiros it would just be a contest. If I thought they were not doing the right thing I could disagree with them. I think I'm dealing with honest people." Mr. Zoeller, a lawyer, said he teaches trial litigation one day a week at Fordham Law School. He said that not running for the board didn't mean that he might not again question something they do in the future. He regularly attends the board meetings.
Mr. Smiros said, "It's great to see people like Donald Zoeller, who have taken the time to understand the work of the board and the challenges the district faces. Originally he questioned last year's budget. He has taken an active role in the process, rather than stand on the sidelines. The board welcomes the challenges but appreciates an open debate rather than a one sided dialog."