Board of education members, Port school administrators and the Port schools teacher's union failed to appear at a public forum sponsored by the General Council of Homeowner Associations held on Monday, June 6 at the Port Library. In a letter to the council, School Superintendent Geoffrey Gordon said such a meeting would be premature since the revised budget would not be finalized until the following day, June 7.
The letter did not say whether these groups would attend a second forum scheduled by the General Council for Wednesday, June 8 at the Port Community Chest building.
The meeting, which was chaired by Barry Loeb, vice president of the General Council, went on as scheduled with an address by Frank Russo of the Port Washington Educational Assembly. Russo criticized the failure of the educational groups to appear saying that a valid public debate could have been held since the revised budget was 99.99 percent completed.
Russo spoke to an audience of about three dozen residents and methodically listed savings, which might be made in the proposed 2005-2006 school budget. Russo spoke earnestly as the lone panel member and repeatedly espoused balance and fairness in the budget without adversely affecting the students. In an early summary of his proposals, he offered no changes whatsoever from grades K through 8 and said that the elimination of one assistant principal and secretary would be sufficient to reinstate all the programs the board of education has proposed eliminating.
As the presentation continued, Russo pointed out a mathematical error of approximately one-half million dollars in the contingency budget, which was apparently overlooked by the board of education. He also offered a litany of suggestions to reduce the budget including: increasing class size, adjusting teaching time from 17 to 20 hours and a reduction of tutoring time. He described the desirability of the teaching positions saying there are approximately 130 applicants for each position costing Port taxpayers $119,000 per teacher annually and includes salary, fringe benefits and overtime. Russo also commented on savings, which could be made in other positions such as principals, assistant principals, psychologists and custodial staff.
Chairman Barry Loeb opened the question and answer session to the audience, many of whom were senior citizens. A question regarding the forthcoming labor contract was raised. The board's position at present seems to be that any salary increases will have to come from the revised budget. Statements were made from the floor that school officials were trying to frighten parents into approving the budget. The greatest audience reaction, which prompted a round of applause, came when a man advocated freezing all salaries for three years.
Throughout the meeting, Russo asked for continued support from Port residents and asked those who wished to be on a mailing/e-mail list to leave their names. The newly formed Port Washington Educational Assembly can also be contacted at PO Box 203, Port Washington, NY 11050. The meeting concluded with an appeal for all to attend the final budget discussion scheduled to take place the following night at the Weber School.