After the customary roll call, during which it was noted that Superintendent Geoffrey N. Gordon could not be present for the meeting because his father was sick, and adoption of the agenda, the Port Washington Board of Education got down to business. Board President Robert Seiden announced the formation of a Port Washington School District audit committee and a Citizen Action Committee, both of which are open to any resident of Port Washington over 18. Anyone interested in serving should contact Jean-Marie Posner. He also noted two new web sites created to help make the community safer: Report-it.com for students who notice any behavioral problems or acts of violence and want to report them confidentially and anonymously, and Report-it.net for residents who would like to inform the authorities about fraud, abuse, or waste in the schools. He finished his remarks by asking more community members to get involved in school events, citing the football game against Hicksville last Friday night as an opportunity for that.
After Mr. Seiden's address, the board gave four certificates of excellence to acknowledge the efforts of individuals who have made an effort to improve the community. The first was given to Dana Friedman, who raised money to improve conditions for disadvantaged children. The second went to Weber science teacher Cheryl Dodes, who was also awarded Outstanding Science Teacher at a May 24 dinner. The third certificate was awarded to the man Mr. Seiden called the "backbone" of the school district, Eric Vonderhorst, the director of facilities and operations, and to the custodial staff of Weber Middle School, who responded quickly and efficiently to a disastrous pipe eruption on May 21. The final award of the evening was given to a group of ninth graders from Schreiber High School who created a scholarship in the name of their classmate Michale Cassidy, who died in the past year from a respiratory illness. The money for the scholarship was raised by selling brownies and other desserts for 25 cents, and the revenue will go to someone who would not otherwise have the chance to become a counselor-in-training at the district's A.T.L.A.S.T summer camp. Honoree Matthew Varvaro delivered a speech saying that the members of the scholarship committee "would always have Michale in mind."
Next came the first round of community comments. The board heard a complaint about the loss of 4:30 p.m. busing, which was eliminated when the contingency budget was adopted. They were told that the crossing guards leave at 4:15, while many children do not get out of clubs until after that. Joel Katz asked for the final number of students in the district, which turned out to be 4,991. He stated that he has heard that some children felt intimidated by teachers who were wearing Port Washington Teachers Association (PWTA) buttons. The teachers union and the board are in negotiations for a new teachers contract, negotiations that are said to be difficult. The board asked Mr. Katz to give them examples and said they would look into it. As to his comment that children were feeling uncomfortable because of a lack of supplies, Assistant Superintendent Mary Callahan, who was sitting in for the superintendent, said that state law specifies that under a contingent budget, supplies cannot be provided if the students carry them back and forth to school.
Tessa Jordan, president of the PWTA, said that the reason that the teachers wear the buttons is to "express pride in their profession" and that the buttons are raising community awareness that the teachers seek a fair contract. Parent Council co-president Karen Sloan added that the teachers are "citizens of this country and have free speech," and that they are "completely entitled to wear the buttons."
Paula Whitman, co-president of the Salem HSA, raised two points. First, she asked the board to confirm that the custodians were using only "green," or "environmentally safe and friendly," cleaning products. She also mentioned that many parents, hearing about the extreme heat in the schools during September, offered to purchase single air-conditioning units for the classrooms, and she wanted the board's opinion. Mr. Vonderhorst verified that his staff was using only green products, and he also said that only some of the schools have electrical systems that could support individual air-conditioning units. He also noted that if one school got them, then "the me-too" syndrome would infect the other schools, and everyone else would demand single units as well. Most classrooms would require two units, and it would be expensive to power them all. He also updated the board on the state of the air conditioning in Weber's new wing, noting that the first phase was just finished.
The board moved on to action items, items that have been reviewed by board committees and are ready for a vote by the full board. The first group of action items came from the finance committee, headed by Mrs. Posner, and the board unanimously approved all six. The highlight was the acceptance of a donation of 16 new laptops and a router to Daly from the Daly HSA.
"It was a great pleasure to provide a note of cheer in what would have otherwise been an austere budget year," said Daly HAS co-president Sue Sturman.
Also accepted was the donation of two new computer work stations to Weber from the Weber HSA, the auditing services of R.S. Abrams & Co. for $31,900, and Consultech's services for unemployment insurance cost-containment management.
The two action items came from the facilities committee, headed by Dean Nardone. Both were approved: provisions for custodial supplies and the disposal of three trucks deemed obsolete.
Ten curriculum items followed, most concerned with special education. All were approved unanimously.
The largest group of the action items came under the heading of personnel. Board member Dr. Roy Nelson, the committee chair, objected to the second motion, the addition of a new ESL position, because he did not agree with the job description. One of the toughest motions for the board was accepting the resignation of Carmine Matina, an assistant principal at Schreiber, effective Oct. 21. All the board members said they were sad to see him go. Nancy Cowles said that there is nothing she could say that would not be complimentary, and Mark Marcellus added that Mr. Matina had "made a big difference to a lot of kids in the school." His replacement, Craig Weiss, made a speech introducing himself.
"[Port Washington] is such a wonderful community," he said, adding that there was "no more honorable position than teaching," and that he "anticipates many years of happiness" working in the district.
Other major items that were approved included the elimination of 11.5 educational assistants' positions and the addition of five security aides for Schreiber. It was clarified that the educational assistants who had been let go could fill any vacant teacher's assistant position. The administration had been unhappy with the previous private security company that patrolled Schreiber's grounds, directing traffic, checking that underclassmen did not leave campus during the school day, and acting as the first line of security in other ways. This year, the administration hired five retired police officers, and the vote was to approve their conditional appointment. The vote was 4-2-1. Some board members objected to the job description because the prerequisites did not include anything higher than an eighth-grade education.
The board also adopted the Port Washington Mentoring Program for new teachers. This entails that an experienced teacher will guide a teacher new to the profession.
Thus concluding the action items, the board moved on to new business. Mrs. Posner mentioned that the new wing of Weber would be dedicated on Oct.7 at 9 a.m. Weber students are to speak at the event, and it is expected to be festive. The wing is to be named for Douglas Jacobson, a World War II Medal of Honor winner from Port Washington.
Community comments concluded the meeting, as Stanley Ronell said he thought the person who sits at the front desk at Schreiber should be able to communicate with the main office without leaving her post. Andrea Willard, who often occupies that position, said that she was looking into it.