The proposed Go Turf project, a controversial donation from a local athletic group to renovate one of the district's premier athletic fields, was accepted by the Port Washington Board of Education at its June business meeting. But before that matter could be addressed, there were people to thank and children to appreciate.
The preliminaries began with farewells to outgoing board member Dean Nardone, who lost his seat on the board by a handful of votes in May; to co-presidents of home-school and parent-teacher associations; and to Amy Bass, the founding president of the Port Washington Education Foundation, which raises and distributes money for educational projects outside the district's budget process. Superintendent Geoffrey Gordon called Mrs. Bass "an absolutely magnificent force in representing volunteerism." Guggenheim fourth-grader Elizabeth Sinn received a certificate for her prizewinning poster in a countywide competition run by Child Abuse Prevention Services. Schreiber freshman Brian Mannion was recognized for his first-place poster for the Long Island Speech Language Hearing Association.
The business portion of the meeting was further delayed as black-garbed Port teachers addressed the board during 45 minutes of community comments, protesting the continued lack of a contract. The teachers have worked without a contract since June 30, 2005.
Supporters of the Go Turf project and neighbors on both sides of Whitney Field, which is to be renovated by the Athletic Association of Port Washington, also spoke. They are concerned about increased noise, traffic and the possibility of night play at the field.
In all, the tributes, recognition and community comments pushed back the start of board business to 9:30, an hour and a half after the meeting's 8 p.m. start. This led some longtime board watchers, veteran volunteers all, to grumble that the board's efforts to reach out to the community had gone too far.
At 9:30, the board at last heard from Schreiber reading teacher Lauren Giliof and assistant principal David Miller, who explained the process and findings of the accreditation process the high school had undergone this year. The accreditation agency is the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, founded in 1920. Ms. Giliof and Mr. Miller served as internal coordinators of Schreiber's accreditation committee, which established a set of benchmarks by which the district can measure the school's success in several areas.
Next, George Lawrence, a consulting engineer, gave his formal report on the state-mandated facilities report card, which the board had previously received so that members could study it and prepare questions. He noted that the five-year plan calls for $12.4 million in spending, of which $2.4 million will come out of energy savings from improvements made this year. Mr. Lawrence also endorsed a recommendation of the ad hoc committee on capital expenditures, which advised the board to extend its planning horizon for major maintenance projects to 15 years from the five years required under state education law.
"It's a good idea," Mr. Lawrence said in an interview outside the meeting, explaining that over 15 years, Port's capital expenditures could run to $50 million. The board is to consider paying Mr. Lawrence's firm $22,250 for a 15-year study. "You're kind of going blind" by looking only four or five years out, Mr. Lawrence added. He said the district appears to be budgeting too little for its capital projects. A rule of thumb for annual capital spending on items such as roof repair, heating plants and major plumbing is 2 percent of the value of buildings in the district, he said, or the number of square feet of building space multiplied by $200. For the Port Washington school district, that would amount to $4 million in annual maintenance. For the 2006-07 school year, the board budgeted $500,000, Mr. Lawrence said. This includes $90,000 to repair the blacktop courtyard at Daly Elementary School, $110,000 to remove asbestos from the second-story floors at Schreiber, and $300,000 for roof work beyond the emergency projects at Manorhaven and Sousa elementary schools, Eric Vonderhorst, the district's director of facilities and operations, said in an interview.
The most controversial item on the agenda was a resolution to accept the Athletic Association of Port Washington's gift of improvements to the Whitney Athletic Field. Athletic fields are in short supply in the district, and Whitney Field is a hard-packed dustbowl that is an embarrassment to Port teams, several high school athletes told the board. But the adjacent Bible Church fears disruption of its services and other events, and Montfort Hills neighbors are concerned about noise, traffic and the possible addition of bright lights for night games. Representatives of both groups pleaded with the board to prohibit the installation of lights and bleachers.
The athletic association has offered to renovate the field at its own expense and donate the improvements to the district. The resolution before the board described "the installation of a lighted artificial turf field for football, soccer, lacrosse and other uses." The resolution noted that acceptance of the project is "subject to a written agreement" that "shall identify the scope of the improvements and the other terms and conditions of the project." This agreement has not yet been drafted.
"This is a wonderful gift," board member Nancy Cowles said.
Board member Larry Greenstein added that the district, not the association, would control the use of the field. "Just because the field is lit doesn't mean it's going to be lit all night long," he said.
Dr. Gordon said the board must balance the needs of student athletes and the needs of the field's neighbors and promised a public hearing on how the field would be used. "We use portable lights now," he noted.
The board voted unanimously to accept the gift.
Later, during the final round of community comments, former board member Joseph Mirzoeff questioned the propriety of accepting the gift without first having agreements about the scope of improvements vetted publicly. "How will the public know when contracts are signed?" he asked.
Board president Rob Seiden bristled, implying that Mirzoeff was questioning the board's integrity. Mirzoeff replied mildly that state sunshine laws require that contracts be discussed and approved publicly.
In other matters, the board adopted July 5 and August 8 as meeting dates but postponed approval of the rest of the 2006-07 meeting schedule because the proposed schedule included several consecutive weekly rather than biweekly meetings.
In personnel matters, the board approved the resignation of Tessa Jordan, president of the Port Washington Teachers Association and longtime union activist, who is retiring.
In an interview, Ms. Jordan said she had no specific plans but would continue to attend board meetings. "Now I'll have time for [school board] committee meetings, too," she said.
Dr. Charles Peimonte's appointment as interim assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment was extended indefinitely.
A new district policy on "wellness" received the first of two formal readings required prior to adoption. The policy will be discussed at the Aug. 8 work session.
Jean-Marie Posner said there is an opening on the district's audit advisory committee and asked interested members of the community to send a letter and their qualifications to the board.
The board discussed the prospects for adding the International Baccalaureate program at Schreiber. In recent years, the board, administrators, teachers and parents have expressed interest in the IB program, an academically challenging two-year curriculum. One concern is whether the program should be added to, or replace, Schreiber's advanced-placement classes.
Dr. Gordon said that running both the IB program and AP classes would have "a significant cost," adding that while AP courses are offered in individual subjects, such as U.S. history or calculus, the IB is a full curriculum. "There is no in-between," he said.
Schreiber Principal Jay Lewis recommended against trying to have both IB and AP.
"Districts with the IB phase out AP courses," Mr. Lewis added. "They can't exist side by side." IB and AP courses are not "aligned," he said, so he would discourage students in an IB program from taking AP tests. Good results on AP exams sometimes translate into college credits for incoming college freshmen. Mr. Lewis said that the IB program might attract a broader range of students than AP courses do and that applying to join the IB organization would cost $35,000, plus "significant" costs for staff development. Finally, the board discussed taking on a Schreiber student as a member, but Dr. Gordon said that having a student as a nonvoting representative would be better because doing so would not require a districtwide referendum.