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It may have been summer outside, but inside the Schreiber auditorium on August 8th, fall was definitely in the air. Gearing up for the start of a new school year just a few weeks away, the BOE's August 8th agenda focused on converting Weber classrooms, monitoring kindergarten enrollment, and approving an agreement with New York University for continuation of mental health services for the Alternative H.S. students and families. The hiring of teachers and administrators to fill vacancies is progressing, though the competition is fierce for qualified candidates, it was reported. In addition, a unanimous BOE voted to adopt a 2000-2001 tax levy resolution; the tax rate "will be as projected," said Superintendent Al Inserra, and "will be published in the paper." And while the focus is the upcoming 2000-2001 school year, many students -- from elementary grades through high school -- benefited this summer from a very successful academic skills program.

The BOE meeting got off to a slow, and bumpy start. When a community member asked to speak, BOE President Richard Sussman said, "Our rule is that people can only speak on agenda items." While it appeared to many that her topic was related to an agenda item, Mr. Sussman argued that this was not, and asked that she hold her comments until the end of the meeting. The other members of the BOE, however, disagreed with Mr. Sussman. "I'm not in favor of all these rules to limit public input," said BOE member Jon Zimmerman. Of like mind, BOE member Dean Nardone added, "Allow the public to comment!" After a lengthy discussion, the BOE voted, 5-1, to permit public remarks.

When she was finally allowed to speak, Guggenheim parent Ellen McCulloh maintained that there is a significant disparity between the teacher/student ratios in different elementary schools. While one elementary school has 70 students and four teachers, another has 99 students and four teachers, she stated. At Guggenheim, she was informed there would be "one (additional) teacher across fourth and fifth grades, or two TA s, spread across the nine sections." Representing a group of parents from Guggenheim, she commented, "We'd prefer one certified teacher or four TA s. Guggenheim is the most overcrowded school."

Ann Israel, assistant superintendent for Instructional and Human Resources, reported that staffing is progressing, but is a difficult situation with few qualified candidates and "competitive bidding." Some late resignations make it even harder to fill positions. The tech ed positions have been particularly hard to fill; a band director position at the high school has just become vacant as well. They are in the final stages of filling the Superintendent of Business position, vacated recently by the retirement of Larry Blake, and the Pupil Personnel position, formerly held by Carol Gannon.

Dr. Inserra stated that the student enrollment is now being monitored daily, and that it appears they will keep the present staffing for Manorhaven kindergarten. Sixth grade, though, is running ahead of forecasts. "Since projections have started about four years ago, the projections have held, or were exceeded," he explained.

Describing the very successful summer program, Dr. Karnilow, assistant superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, said that 215 elementary children completed the academic skills program in reading and math. An enrichment program for ESL students sought to increase skills in math and science, with the hope these students will enter accelerated programs. In addition, students participated in an earth science foundations program, an ESL program for grades 3 to 9, a math sequential 1 or II and global studies program, and Regents support for math seq. II. "The students showed tremendous growth in math, and some in English, " said Dr. Karnilow, who will have further information next month when other assessments are completed. When some BOE members expressed concern over the 100 students who were recommended but did not participate in summer school, Dr. Inserra replied, "We are trying to impress that this isn't optional anymore. Kids won't succeed without it." The superintendent said a September meeting will be used to discuss academic intervention services, now required by the State Education Dept.

In other matters, Dr. Inserra requested that a committee be formed to review administration's work on student residency policies. In the last three years, the superintendent estimated that he reviewed about 300 cases with insufficient papers to prove residency. Thirty were excluded before they started school, and about eight to ten after they started. Dr. Inserra estimated that 10 percent of the cases that he reviews do not belong in PW schools, and these, generally, were elementary students.

A gift of a banner/display of the national motto, "In God We Trust," is now being reviewed by the District's attorney and will return to the BOE for a vote.

The BOE also approved the transfer of funds which Dr. Inserra said was "the last one dealing with the 99-00 budget," and voted unanimously for the tax levy for the 2000-2001 school year. The superintendent said the tax rate will be as projected, and will be published in the paper.

In other votes, the BOE majority also approved JMOA as the contractor to conduct the mandatory building condition survey, consented to accept a tuition-paying student, and authorized the continuation of a contract with New York University for mental health services for the alternative high school students and families. While some of the students are classified, all are considered high risk, it was explained, and thanks to these services and academic ones, the students have been very successful. More than 90 percent graduate and many attend college.

The BOE, though, rejected outside bids for the Weber classroom conversions, and instead, Eric Vonderhorst and his staff are doing the work in-house. Though it is a significant undertaking, the cost will be "less than budgeted." The outside bids were rejected because "they were inflated," according to Mr. Sussman.

During public comments, former BOE member Nancy Cowles advised the school board to settle on a class size policy, "because once you do that, you will settle many issues." She also expressed her view that the administration building will not work as the location of the alternative high school. Near the close of the meeting, Ellen McCulloh said she and other Guggenheim parents were dismayed that no action was taken by the BOE on the issue of an additional Guggenheim 5th grade teacher.


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