By Emily Berkowitz
With the community still reeling from the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the PW Board of Education opened its September 25 meeting by observing a moment of silence before moving on to its packed agenda. Of note were ideas for having student representatives to the school board, a healthy independent audit report for the District, and the establishment of a new, requested high school club, the gay-straight alliance. Quite a number of teachers, who have been working without a contract, attended the meeting.
Dr. Albert Inserra, the Superintendent of Schools, indicated that students had approached him with the concept of having student representatives to the school board. Other districts, like Herricks and Great Neck, have these elected individuals, Inserra stated, but they do not have voting power. The majority of the PW school board reacted positively to the suggestion. School board VP Bob Ferro favored special needs children as representatives, rather than honors students or those involved in student government. The school board voted 5 in favor, with 1 against (Peter Wezenaar was the sole opponent) of having the policy committee of the school board review the proposal.
Stating that the purpose of the club seemed a little bit vague, and questioning "where the school district's role ends, and the community's begins," board member Peter Wezenaar commented first on the proposed establishment of the gay-straight alliance at Schreiber H.S. Dr. Inserra said, in answer to Wezenaar, that "I felt it was worth supporting because some kids are struggling with this, and they need an outlet." Backing the idea, board member Laura Mogul said she believed it was "a way for kids to feel safe in our schools, in a guided way ... [It] comes back to an issue of safety and tolerance in our schools." Moreover, "students voiced a need for this," Mogul stated. Agreeing, board member Nancy Cowles remarked, "I don't think it is a club about sexual orientation but about tolerance." Five board members voted in favor of this new club; Wezenaar abstained. (Board member Jon Zimmerman arrived later in the meeting.)
To borrow a phrase from a classic Frank Sinatra song, it was a very good year for the school district. The PWSD's finances were pronounced healthy by a representative of Miller Lilly and Pearce, LLP, thatrecently completed an audit of the general purpose financial statements for the 2000-2001 fiscal year which ended June 30.
Many will recall that last year's report highlighted the very low fund balance. "Last year, the fund balance was less than _ of 1 percent" the auditor mentioned. But now, "the fund balance has been brought up to an appropriate level," he said. The fund now stands at approximately $1.4 million, just below the 2 percent level, it was stated. (The fund balance, by law, cannot exceed 2 percent.) That was accomplished, he said, by controlling the budget, receiving extra revenue, and not appropriating monies to lower the tax burden, as has been done in prior years.
Citing the District's "good internal controls" and the staff's spirit of cooperation, teamwork, and attention to last year's recommendations, the auditor had a few suggestions, regarding transferring reserves from liability and unemployment, which have not been utilized over the past several years, to the District's Workers' Compensation fund. "The District needs to have a sufficient reserve in addition to the amount budgeted annually since it has no control over the payment of claims," their letter stated.
Overall, the letter from the accounting firm was very positive. In one section of their management letter, they summarized the current position: "Last year's management letter addressed several areas including general fund balance, internal control over receipts, and the District's investment policy. We have determined that each of those areas have been properly addressed by the District. The general fund balance has increased to an appropriate level, the procedures for cash receipts have been modified to strengthen internal control, and the District revised its investment policy on February 13, 2001."
Universal words of praise were given to Assistant Superintendent for Business, Mary Callahan, who, in turn, thanked her staff in the business office.
The Board of Education's next meeting is scheduled for October 2.