Board member Robert Seiden's face, sunburned except where he'd been wearing his sunglasses, was evidence that the summer's final board of education meeting was little more than an interruption in people's vacations.
Acceptance of the final report of the environmental testing conducted by H2M Group at the Salem Elementary School was the primary focus of the Aug. 24 meeting. Superintendent Geoffrey Gordon was absent because of a death in his extended family. Mary Callahan, the assistant superintendent for business, acted in his place. Board member Mark Marcellus arrived late. All other board members were present at roll call.
There were no initial community comments. Callahan assured the community that Salem School would open on time and that Daly School would also be ready.
Ed Sallie, assistant superintendent for human resources and general administration, discussed enrollment. He said that at the last meeting, all classes were within the district size guidelines, but that the administration was recommending an additional kindergarten section at Salem. Because the five sections at Sousa School were under-enrolled, one was "moved" from there to Salem. This involved going from five to four classes at Sousa and from three to four at Salem. All are within the guidelines.
Sallie said the district has been recruiting teachers for primary positions and would recommend adding another kindergarten at Sousa if that becomes necessary.
He added that more than 50 teachers and administrators were recruited over the summer. Currently, he noted, 11 slots are vacant, but there are final recommendations for almost all positions. Before Labor Day, this should be settled.
Callahan commented that the district was talking to the police department about placing crossing guards in the Harbor Hills area and near the Salem school.
Gary Miller, a representative from H2M Group, an environmental consultant, discussed the results of environmental testing at Salem School. In a few locations, he said, petroleum-based organic compounds were present in soil samples, and in his final report, he recommended that topsoil be placed over those areas. The areas could then be seeded and access limited until new grass has grown in.
Methane was detected in one spot on retesting. Miller had concluded that the nearby landfill was not the cause of this methane presence. Had it indeed been the cause, the gas would be detectable in more of the locations that were tested. Methane, he said, would migrate in a bigger plume had the landfill been the source.
At the landfill itself, fans actively remove the gas, and surrounding areas are frequently tested for its presence. The North Hempstead Solid Waste Authority detected no methane in the venting wells nearest to Salem. Miller suggested installing methane censors as a safety precaution.
Seiden and board president Nancy Cowles agreed that the facility should be monitored. Eric Vonderhorst, director of facilities and operations, said that installing such a system would not be possible before the first day of school this year.
Roy Nelson amended the motion to accept H2M's, adding authorization for the installation of methane detectors. The board voted 5-1 on the item, with Nardone dissenting. Nardone said a costly detection system was unnecessary because the methane is not coming from the landfill.
The next item, the substitution of a veneer on all interior doors at the Salem School, was passed unanimously. A change order involving a concrete sidewalk at the school was also approved 6-0. Vonderhorst discussed the installation of better lighting at Salem, and two related items were passed unanimously.
The main curriculum issues concerned new courses and textbooks for the upcoming school year. Trends in Literature, a new course at Schreiber, was approved 6-0. Two textbooks for that class were approved 5-1, with Nelson opposing.
Board member Mark Marcellus then arrived. The approval of a fifth-grade history textbook was approved 5-1-1, with Nelson opposing and Cowles abstaining.
Nelson said he was voting no on the textbooks because he hadn't been given enough time to review them. Callahan said the book requests were delivered later than anticipated.
Marcellus presented the personnel items, all of which were approved unanimously. David Miller, an incoming assistant principal at Schreiber, was recognized.
The board discussed discrepancies in the number of homework clubs at the elementary schools. Daly has more homework clubs than the other schools, but turnout there has been the highest. Daly Principal
Elaine Ajello testified that every year, students placed on waitinglists for the club are denied entry because of the large enrollment. Also, Daly has separate homework clubs for special-education students and ESL students. Finally, other principals had requested fewer homework clubs.
As for old business, Nardone brought up the issue of elementary students taking buses home other than the ones to which they are assigned - for example, to go to a friend's house. Callahan said that this was a safety concern.
Paul Stewart made the first community comment of the evening, speaking on behalf of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington. He agreed with Nardone that the methane detector was an unnecessary measure, based on the assumption that the methane is not from the landfill. Instead, he suggested the implementation of crawl- space ventilation in response to the presence of volatile organic chemicals. Methane detection systems cost more than $10,000, whereas the ventilation would cost just a couple of thousand dollars, he said.
Larry Greenstein spoke on another topic: the correlation between life success and social connection. He said that disabled students should be helped with social skills and that the history of the disability movement should be taught in the classroom. He also advocated the creation of a peer-tutoring program in the schools, because he noted that most of the interpersonal relationships of disabled children are with someone who is paid to be with them.
Tom Pietrantonio asked about the district's policy regarding admittance into advanced courses at Weber. Cowles said that these were administrative issues. He also asked how many board members had reviewed the history textbook that they passed. None of them responded.
Finally, a parent commented about her children's busing, asking for more consideration for families attending two schools in the district, and Jennifer Rimmer asked that Salem School parents receive information about the environmental testing results.