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POB Board of Education Adopts 2012-2013 Budget

New superintendent Dr. Lorna Lewis introduces herself to the community

Though Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education meetings typically cover a lot of ground, they don’t tend to feature lots of tasty snacks. That changed on Monday, April 2, when new superintendent Dr. Lorna Lewis was greeted not only with flowers and accolades, but also a rare mid-meeting break for refreshments and chatting so that the new administrator could introduce herself to parents and staff. While the board had their typical slate of reports to get through, as well as the important matter of adopting the 2012-2013 budget, the warm welcome for Dr. Lewis lent the whole evening a festive, celebratory air.

“These are wonderful people; they’re going to welcome you, and they’re going to participate in a transition process that will lead to future growth in the school district,” said current superintendent Gerard W. Dempsey Jr., who assured the audience that he will be working closely with Lewis during the transitional period.

Lewis, who started her career as a math and physics teacher but most recently served as superintendent of the East Williston School District for the last five years, took up the microphone briefly to express her enthusiasm for her new position.

“I feel like the luckiest person in the world tonight, because I’ve been privileged to be selected to lead another premiere district on Long Island, and join a school community where educational traditions are steeped in excellence,” said Lewis. “We will face the financial challenges together, and I know that we have the right ingredients here to fulfill the expectations that lie in our hearts for all of our children.”

Lewis’ contract was approved unanimously, effective Aug. 1.

In board announcements, the board reported that the district’s robotics team, the “POBots,” made the finals at the recent Long Island Regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) tournament, held at Hofstra University March 29-31. In other encouraging news, the board discussed the great success of the district’s first Parent University, which was held March 28 at Mattlin Middle School. Individual board members discussed the “classes” they attended, which covered topics like early literacy success and how to start saving for college. Board member Debbie Bernstein happily reported that the parents filling out surveys at the conclusion of the program had many glowing things to say about it; the most common criticism was that some programs could have been longer.

However, interested parents who missed this event aren’t completely out of luck: all the PowerPoint presentations and handouts used during Parent University will be made available on the district website.

In more somber news, Stratford Road Elementary School Principal Alison Clark brought the board up to date on the state of her school’s Comprehensive Education Plan, necessitated by the fact that Stratford Road did not meet proficiency levels in English/Language Arts for students with disabilities under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). However, Dempsey was quick to point out that the problem does not truly lie with Stratford Road; it is district policy to keep all of the self-contained special education students in one building, so while the district achieves greater economy this way, it makes the school score lower than its sister schools under the NCLB statistics-based microscope.

Clark explained that creating an improvement plan for her school was a long and labor-intensive process, at one point hefting up a giant binder filled with data that she and her staff had collected from the students. While Clark did not offer many specifics on what the plan contained, she did say that the school had restructured the way the reading staff worked with the teachers in order to allow for more and greater collaboration. In addition, the students have been given lessons on how to deal with test anxiety so the tests will become a better reflection of their true skills.

“We had to do a causal analysis, where we had to review all of the possible causes that led to the achievement gap, and review effective research,” said Clark.

At the conclusion of Clark’s report, board president Gary Bettan expressed skepticism about the value of NCLB, something he has criticized in the past as well. Other board members thanked Clark for her can-do attitude, and strongly implied that the scrutiny Stratford Road is now under thanks to NCLB isn’t necessarily fair.

Before voting to adopt next year’s budget, Assistant Superintendent Ryan Ruf went over some modifications that have been made recently. Some additions include $11,280 for additional workbooks for the high school, $69,892 to go toward expanding the district’s Chinese language program and most significantly an $80,000 allotment to build another parking lot at the Fern Place School, which the district leases to Association for Children with Down Syndrome (ACLD).

However, not all the changes involved money being spent; Ruf was happy to report that the district had just found out that it will be receiving $292,813 in additional state aid. With all the modifications taken into account, the budget represents a 2.29 percent increase over last year’s budget, and a 2.49 percent tax levy increase. Once again, Ruf reminded residents not to be confused by the so-called “2 percent” tax cap, which is not 2 percent in all cases; by law, the district would be allowed to propose a tax levy increase as high as 3.22 percent. The last-minute increase in state aid is partially what allowed the district to stay well under that percentage. Late in the meeting, the budget was officially adopted.

In public participation, many residents who live near the Fern Place School expressed varying opinions about the newly proposed parking lot addition. One resident, Meredith Lewin, even provided the board with some diagrams for alternate parking solutions (Editor’s Note: See “Strongly Opposed to Fern Place School Parking Lot Plan” in Letters to the Editor to find out more about Lewin’s concerns.)

Finally, Jane Pace took the stage to make the community aware of an upcoming bone marrow drive for Plainview student Spencer Reis. Diagnosed with leukemia last year at summer camp, the 14-year-old boy requires a bone marrow transplant. Those wishing to register as bone marrow donors can attend the drive on Sunday, May 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Driftwood Day Camp in Melville.

The next meeting of the board of education will take place Monday, April 23 at 7:45 p.m. at Mattlin Middle School.