An overflowing agenda at the Oct. 17 Board of Election (BOE) meeting included several high points, like the awarding of tenure to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sheldon Karnilow, the recognition of the lucky 13 National Merit Scholarship Commended students, a tribute to one of their number for also becoming a Scholar finalist in another national program, and even an impromptu, a cappella rendition of Happy Birthday to Assistant Superintendent Ann Israel, in honor of her birthday. But unfortunately, there were many rancorous lows in this lengthy meeting as well, as school board members disagreed about how to best to improve facilities in time for September 2001. The composition of the Ad-Hoc Architect's committee also brought forth some acrimonious exchanges, ending with BOE President Richard Sussman's resignation from the committee conducting the search for a new architect. In other matters, the board avoided a vote on the inclusion of a novel in the Schreiber HS curriculum, because Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies, a much-debated work because it contained a page with a homemade bomb drawing, was withdrawn from consideration by the teacher. And much time was spent on the Independent Audit Report for the fiscal year 1999-2000.
"These students represent the top 5 percent of over 1 million students who took the PSAT," said a proud Schreiber High School principal, Dr. Sid Barish, of the 13 students receiving Commendations from the National Merit Scholarship program. These high school seniors - Evan Behar, Samantha Cooperman, Kerry Gibbons, William Greene, Leah Hamburg, Danya Heller, Mark Hiller, Adam Krotman, Yeon Seung Shin, Jacob Silberstein, Roxanne Tingir, Edward Trabulus and Noah Weinstein will receive certificates from the school district. Trabulus had an additional honor; he has been named a Scholar Finalist in the National Hispanic Recognition Program.
There were no recommendations from the high school to replace a proposed text, In the time of the Butterflies, nor was it recommended again, according to Dr. Albert Inserra, the superintendent of schools. The novel, previously proposed by faculty as a class textbook at Schreiber, was found objectionable several weeks ago by several school board members due to a drawing of a bomb. At that time, the board decided to allow the administration to review the work. At this point, the school board did not need to take any action, as it was reported that the teacher had withdrawn the title. BOE member Dean Nardone commented, "I think this showed a lack of faith in our teachers and our students."
This committee, consisting only of school board member Julie Meyer and Mr. Sussman, reported that the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for a new architect had already been distributed, and they had received about 20 responses. Mr. Sussman's livelihood, the windows/construction industry, brings him into contact frequently with architects. Mr. Nardone expressed concern when Mr. Sussman said he knew about 18 of the architects who have submitted bids to the school district. Explaining that he did not believe that any impropriety would actually occur, Mr. Nardone nonetheless said he was worried that Mr. Sussman's participation in the selection process might give the appearance of impropriety. "I'm very concerned about someone so intimately involved in the business, being among only two selection people, choosing (architectural) finalists ... I think it is inappropriate." he stated. When BOE member Jon Zimmerman concurred, and made a motion proposing Mr. Nardone join the committee, Mr. Sussman and Ms. Meyer had some objections, primarily that a new person might slow the process, and set it back a few, very valuable, weeks. The discussion turned bitter and personal when Mr. Sussman and Mr. Zimmerman engaged in a shouting match.
Later in the meeting, Mr. Sussman resigned from this committee, asserting, "you've succeeded, you've stopped any hope of getting something done by September." Bickering throughout much of the meeting caused Dr. Inserra to request, "I implore this board to come together," with BOE vice president Bob Ferro also asking the board to move forward. The motion to add Mr. Nardone and Mr. Zimmerman to the committee passed.
Board members seemed to fall into one of two ways of thinking about short- and long-term facilities plans and a realistic time frame. Mr. Sussman and Mrs. Meyer, for example, sought a accelerated timetable in order to accomplish as much as possible, especially classrooms, by the opening of school next September. They hoped to hire an architect prior to Oct. 30, hold a community forum on the proposed bond referendum on Oct. 30, and have the BOE vote on the long-term bond on Nov. 2. The public vote on the bond could then be scheduled around mid-December. On the other hand, Mr. Zimmerman and Mr. Nardone were critical of the current facilities plan because it did not seem fully developed as yet. Nor was there a consensus about whether short-term solutions might be "married" to the long-term plans in the form of one bond, as Dr. Inserra put it.
BOE member Peter Wezenaar asked about the feasibility of putting together a short-term program that might alleviate some anticipated problems for the next school year. Mr. Nardone contended that after the hiring of an architect, the BOE should "get short-term solutions in place, and then develop a fully developed long-range plan that will work for the next 15 to20 years." But Mr. Sussman fired back, "Why don't you come up with a short-term plan, and tell us what it is? Because if you can do it when architects can't..."
Mr. Zimmerman maintained that rather than "rushing something to the public that is poorly thought-out." A short-term plan in the $3-4 million range could be presented as a bond. As Ms. Meyer advocated for keeping the community forum in all cases, a shouting match erupted once again between the BOE president and Mr. Zimmerman. When the school board voted on the proposed timetable, the motion was defeated. Following the vote, Mr. Sussman angrily told Mr. Zimmerman, "I hope you are proud of yourself when these kids don't have space in September." Mr. Zimmerman addressing the audience, retorted, "He's the king of the low blow."
In an Oct. 27 telephone conversation, Mr. Sussman said that a December vote on a bond now seemed unlikely. Dr. Inserra indicated in an Oct. 26 telephone conversation, that the process of selecting an architect was moving forward, and that finalists would be interviewed during the week of Oct. 30.
In a unanimous vote of approval from the school board, Dr. Karnilow was awarded tenure. Dr. Inserra thanked Dr. Karnilow for his leadership. Adding, "He's done an outstanding job." And while some board members had only unkind words for one another, the assistant superintendent had nothing but the kindest of words for his colleagues and the community. "The past three years have been a tremendously rewarding professional experience," he said. "I've had the opportunity to work with probably the most intelligent, caring group of professionals and parents." He went on to say that the principals. Teachers and the administrative team were "the best I have ever worked with." He was equally generous in his praise of Port Washington, saying "I live this community. It's a great, great place to raise children. Despite some minor setbacks now and again, it really is a place that loves education and children." Mr. Sussman told him, "It will be a pleasure to have you here, permanently.
The BOE also approved the hiring of Ruth Silverberg as an assistant principal who will divide her time between Sousa and Guggenheim. Though several questioned the timing of this action, the two biggest elementary schools need the administrative support, it was mentioned. In addition, the school board voted to accept a gift of $30,000 from the Manorhaven PTA. Mr. Nardone expressed his wish that such fund raising was districtwide, so the funds could be spend on the districtwide basis, but nevertheless, joined in thanking Ellen Fox and the entire PTA organization.
One individual asked how and when the BOE scheduled its meetings, and whether they considered other events. For instance, the high school needed the auditorium that evening to rehearse plays, it was stated. Dr. Inserra answered that the meeting date was set in July, and conflicts are "accommodated as best as possible."
Many of the remarks from attendees expressed disappointment with the facilities plan, and dismay at the BOE's antagonistic interactions. Jim Ansel, for instance, mentioned he had worked in school construction for 18 years, and felt the plan "was a sorry compromise ... a short-sighted plan." Former school board member Nancy Cowles Schools. "I'm really getting worried," she stated. "You are all good people, giving so much of your time," said another member of the community. "But try to be more civil to one another." Schreiber 11th grader Charlotte McCorkel told the school board. "Your behavior tonight has been distressing and does not set a good example of how adults should behave in a public meeting. The impression I have formed tonight makes me fear for my own educational future and the future of the PW schools."