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Plainview-Old Bethpage School Board Discusses Anti-Bullying Policy

In addition to continuing their discussions on the proposed 2011-2012 budget at their March 28 meeting, the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education discussed comments on the first draft of the district’s new anti-bullying policy, formed with the help of the district’s DASA (Dignity for All Students) Committee. Board members discussed issues raised by parents who had posted their comments on the school’s website, as well as their own concerns about how the fight against bullying behavior should best be conducted.

According to the board, many parents criticized the policy for being too vague; the Plainview Council of Teachers said that it was “vaguely drawn,” while the group POB Parents Concerned about Bullying felt that the policy needed to list more consequences for children who bully others. Among other comments, district parents thought that pushing should be added to a list of bullying behaviors, as well as the phenomenon of bullying within the realm of online video games- where students can chat while they play, for better or for worse.

Trustee Ginger Lieberman- also one of the anti-bullying experts behind LIPEN’s nationally-recognized “Bullyfrog” program- agreed with parents’ concerns that the policy was too vague, and could easily lead to students being reported for behavior that shouldn’t be considered bullying.

“I think if you walked into any school, in any district, you would see kids doing these things,” said Lieberman. “I want to see a policy that we can enforce, and I don’t know if this is enforceable.”

Trustee Angel Cepeda agreed with Lieberman’s concerns, but also noted that the problem was too vast for a policy to fix- even a well-worded one. “We can’t just expect that a policy in a school district is going to solve this issue,” said Cepeda. “It’s a very complex matter.”

In addition to taking these comments into consideration as the board prepares another draft of the policy, Superintendent Gerard Dempsey noted that the policy will have to be made to accommodate all DASA regulations, as well as be translated into age-appropriate language for students at different grade levels, so the students subject to the policy will be able to understand it.

In the budget report, the board reviewed four areas that had yet to be discussed at any of the previous budget meetings: BOCES, Business Office, Miscellaneous, and Undistributed/Benefits/Debt Service.

The BOCES budget is increasing by 3.87 percent, largely due to increased special education costs, which will go up by almost $500,000 next year.

In the business office, the budget is decreasing by 3.3 percent, due mostly to a decrease in administrative debt service charges.

In Miscellaneous (a category which includes items like student accident coverage and the MTA Payroll Tax), the budget is increasing by 1.9 percent.

Finally, in Undistributed/Benefits/Debt Service, the budget is increasing by a more significant 8.8 percent, due to an increase in employee retirement funds, unemployment insurance, and health insurance; health insurance alone is projected to increase from $10,846,628 to $12,079,603.

After covering these budget areas, the board reviewed the proposed modifications to the first draft of the budget, based on the comments board members and community members had made at the last several meetings. While several of the smaller modifications were voted on (and passed) at the meeting, several- including the possibility of adding the $87,385 “Enrichment for All” item back into the budget, which many parents have requested- were held for the following meeting.

The board discussed many of the same concerns in regard to a 1.0 elementary health position and the Enrichment for All program. While most neighboring districts do not offer an elementary health program taught by licensed health teachers, board members discussed how the program was consistent with the district’s stated commitment to the health and wellness of students. Some felt that while both programs could be cut, it would perhaps be better to do so the following year, after having adequate time to prepare classroom teachers and other faculty to incorporate this curriculum into their lessons (although Cepeda reminded the board that every budget after the current year would be the next board of education’s responsibility.)

Meanwhile, others thought the value of Enrichment for All in particular made cutting it under any circumstances questionable; Board President Gary Bettan noted that the program seemed to be universally beloved within the district, and that it could be “penny-wise and pound-foolish,” to remove it to cut costs.

Modifications accepted by the board included removing the $16,000 that it would cost to print and distribute a health newsletter, which will instead be made available online, restoring a .4 American Sign Language teaching position at the high school, and removing the $2,000 that the 4th R Mandarin Chinese program was expected to cost; instead, Assistant Superintendent Jill Gierasch has secured a grant by the Asia Society, which will cover the program’s cost.

In potential modifications to revenue, a new student transportation charge of $10 per field trip was listed; while board members had expressed concern at the amount last meeting, there was no further discussion of raising or lowering the cost.

In public participation, several parents thanked the board for restoring the sign language position, while others shared their concerns about the draft of the bullying policy.

The next Board of Education meeting will be held at 7 p.m., April 4 at POBJFK High School. Those interested in running for the position of trustee on the school board must submit their applications by April 18; the budget vote will be May 17.