Highlights of the Oct. 19 board of education meeting, at which all board members were present, with the exception of David Strom, included approval of tenure for Assistant Superintendents Emma Fraser Pendleton and Edward Sallie and a report from Miller, Lilly and Pearce, LLP, the district's auditor.
During the first round of community comments, former board member Peter Wezenaar congratulated Pendleton on a job well done. He encouraged her to "fight the fights" in terms of educational policy, and commended her as a "beacon of light." Also, he asked whether Miller, Lilly and Pearce is still employed by the Roslyn School District. He made this comment "in light of the fiasco" in Roslyn.
Former Board President Laura Mogul congratulated Pendleton and Sallie on their receiving tenure and remarked that she was pleased to see the administrative team fully seated, after a long process of finding people to fill such positions.
Superintendent of Schools Geoffrey Gordon spoke about enrollment numbers at Sousa. He discussed the reinstatement of a previously eliminated section of the school's kindergarten class.
Board member Robert Seiden asked when an additional Sousa class would be established if the board approves it. Gordon responded that it was in place or ready to be in place at that point. Board President Nancy Cowles then asked about the prospect of even more students entering this grade. She was concerned about the need to add additional sections.
Board member Mark Marcellus said the board had improved the process of establishing kindergarten sections in conjunction with district policy on class size, and that next year, the board should grant itself more leeway in adding kindergarten sections when class sizes approach the maximum. Parents get upset in such situations, and the board should take this into account next year.
Next, Dave Miller, an auditor from the CPA firm Miller, Lilly and Pearce LLP, reported on the district-wide audit his firm conducted over the summer. The firm, which audits many districts around Long Island, took the lessons learned from the recent Roslyn accounting scandal and applied them to all the audits it has conducted since, including Port's, Miller said. The firm changed some practices and tests of internal controls as a result, he explained. However, he warned that if, as at Roslyn, all the people who control the checks on abuse conspire to steal, no internal safety could stop them.
The auditors' report was characterized by consistent praise of Port's district accounting practices, although Miller noted several areas where additional checks would ensure greater fiscal security.
The audit report began with praise of the district's policy with regard to club money. The report cited the difficulties that some districts face keeping these fund-raising profits from mingling with the rest of the district's assets; this is not allowed because the club money is not taxpayer money.
The report praised the district for strict adherence to standards for the use of federal grant money, as well as for properly accounting for all liabilities. The district's fund balance was also commended for having plenty of savings. Thus, when the district tries to borrow money, it receives favorable bond rates, in turn lowering interest payments and saving taxpayer money over the long term.
Much of the report centered on the school lunch fund balance, an accounting designation that ensures that federal aid directed to the school lunch program is only spent there. The audit uncovered a $250,000 fraud perpetrated by the district's former food contractor, Fine Host. Miller said that his firm was representing 10 Long Island districts that were victims of Fine Host. The total stolen by the company from all the districts is about $1.8 million. In the next few weeks, Miller said, the district would most likely make an agreement with the company and receive a check for the stolen quarter-million dollars. Legally, this refund must remain in the school lunch fund balance, meaning that the administration can use it to lower the price of certain items, improve facilities, or buy new equipment for the kitchens.
Following the fraud perpetrated in Roslyn, the position of internal claims auditor received more rigorous attention this year. Even after this increased scrutiny, Port's systems were applauded and only a few small improvements were suggested. After discussion began on the issues, however, Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Callahan said that many of the suggested policies are already followed, and the only thing that the board could do would be to codify these practices. The auditor agreed with this and extolled the system overall.
Following Miller's report, assistant superintendents Pendleton and Sallie were granted tenure. Pendleton was greeted with a bouquet and photographs were taken of her and the board. Sallie was not present, but Marcellus said that nothing is comparable to the difficulty involved with personnel administration, and that Sallie finds creative and out-of-the-box solutions.
In other personnel items, the board amended Gordon's employment agreement for the school year. Gordon's contract calls for a yearly salary increase of 2 to 4 percent, and the board voted unanimously for a 3.25 percent increase
Seiden gave a "hats off" to Gordon. Board member Jean Marie Posner said Gordon has added value to the district as superintendent.
A major action item was a vote on a two-year contract for the custodial staff, which was approved unanimously.
All other action items were passed unanimously or with one abstention. Among them were the acceptance of donations to the ATLAST summer program and the approval of contracts for 2004-2005 busing. Also, the board accepted a donation of a collection of rock, minerals, and fossils, from Peter P. Faiella, to be used at the Daly School, where he was formerly a principal.
The board also approved the disposal of two pianos-one upright, and one baby grand-in the most economical way possible.