Let me first start out by reporting publicly that I and my colleague, school board Vice President Mark Marcellus, met two weeks ago with several actively outspoken Port residents in a local restaurant to discuss the budget and finances of the school district. We all agreed it was a productive and positive meeting. It will certainly not be the last.
We spoke about some of their innovative ideas and explained some of ours. Ultimately, but not surprisingly, we found common ground on many issues. Their enthusiasm and views were well received. I am confident that we are on the road to a more unified and less fractured community. Mark and I have been meeting with many community residents in the past few weeks, as have other school board members, and many more are scheduled. We have been listening intently. It is part of our efforts to implement what I have been calling "H.O.P.E. 2005 - 2006." "HOPE" stands for "Having Our Public Engaged." This is a paramount initiative of the school board in the coming year, and we are very serious about it. We intend to launch several endeavors, including Town Hall meetings (hopefully at the Port Library or other convenient locations), regular representation of board members at community meetings, a website based Q&A of important questions of community members, involvement with the community in reaching out to our state officials for greater accountability in providing sufficient state aid to our schools. This has begun already through our joint efforts with County Legislator Craig Johnson who is getting out in front on this issue. We are in the process of formulating g many other changes. Our aim, as a cohesive school board and a progressive, visionary school superintendent is to demonstrate through action to the public that we want to have the community engaged in a dialogue with us on the issues.
In my view, the school system is the embodiment of the dreams and aspirations of the community. Only through our effective and honest communication with the community can we truly appreciate the values of the community and see that these dreams and aspirations endure in Port Washington.
As part of our continuing efforts to keep the public record accurate, I will address several recent rumors and hot issues that have been brought to our attention: (1) several community members believe that the superintendent of schools regularly stays overnight at the Roslyn Claremont Hotel. Although there is evidence that prior superintendents did this on a regular basis Dr. Gordon has not stayed at the Roslyn Claremont Hotel (or any other hotel) after late board meetings. In fact, the evidence reported is that he has stayed there once or twice in the past three years. The fact is that the current superintendent regularly stays working in the school district late into the night and drives home afterward to be there in the morning to make sure he can make breakfast for his two children before they go to school. He has demonstrated fiscal restraint by his actions and is a good example to others in the district; (2) there has been concern that the school board will just "roll over" in negotiating with the teachers union. The negotiations have been fair as they should be. However, the school board has taken a very firm position with the teachers union in the recent contract negotiations in terms of reading the changing times of the community. In fact, it has been reported to the board that the teachers union responded to our most recent offer by leaving the table and saying they will not talk to us again until the end of August; 3) despite the statements to the contrary, the evidence is that there are no school district credit cards; (4) finally, the school board has agreed to continue to take steps to lead by example and has further lowered the board budget line through cutting items that have otherwise been board expenditures for the past many years.
The school board expects this to be a solid and promising school year for all the staff and especially the students. We have already heard great news about progress in the Middle School. We received a significant congratulatory letter from New York State Commissioner of Schools Mills. The letter recognizes the Weber Middle School for "closing the gap" in learning in the past few years and states that Weber is in the top 28 percent of state schools that have achieved this distinction. We certainly have more work ahead as a school district in the middle school, but this honor must be appreciated by all those who helped make it happen and the community.
Please remember that our next school board meeting is scheduled for August 9th at 8 p.m. at Schreiber High School. Please make every effort to attend. We will be making the 2005 - 2006 committee assignments, conducting other school business and listening to community comments, among other items. It is expected, although not guaranteed, that the first community comments section will be at 8:10 p.m. Thank you.