The Schreiber auditorium, brimming with district teachers, exploded in applause and cheers as audience members heard the announcement they were waiting for: A teacher contract agreement had been reached. Completed moments before the Aug. 8 board of education began, the agreement came after more than a year of negotiations and considerable community angst.
Board President Rob Seiden, visibly fatigued, cited "Herculean efforts" by the school board and representatives of the teachers union, adding that both sides had worked long into the night to conclude the talks. "The community can be very proud," Seiden said. "[This is] a great day in the town."
In a sign of gratitude, Seiden dismissed Superintendent of Schools Geoffrey Gordon toward the end of the meeting, advising him to "get some sleep" after many long nights working on the agreement.
Although the settlement is subject to ratification by the teachers union, judging by the audience response this is just a formality. Neither side may release details of the contract until after the vote is concluded and both sides' attorneys give clearance.
As the excitement began to settle following the long-awaited announcement, Bruce Bingham, Nassau County Fire Marshal reported on the district's fire safety, calling Port "one of the best districts" he had seen in 30 years.
Members of the district's wellness committee, consisting of Lilie Charno, Pamela Flash and Tina Fuchs, reported on the district's current and future nutrition and food policy. "The vision is to sustain a balanced and healthy school environment," said Fuchs, a public health nutritionist. She explained the importance of instituting nutritional standards for a wide range of places and events-the cafeteria, food in the classroom, vending machines, fundraisers and school parties-and encouraged the adoption of a plan similar to that of New York City public schools, which promotes the use of whole-grain bread and low-fat milk, seeks foods with low amounts of transfats and bans MSG.
"This is a school environment, not summer camp or a party," she said.
The committee also highlighted the need for food vendors to be in touch with the policy with a standardized protocol to monitor vendor compliance. In a PowerPoint presentation, the group showed that the average lunch in Port costs $1.40, while peer districts such as Manhasset, Jericho, and Roslyn all charge $2. By increasing lunch costs to the level of similar districts, popular salad bars and more fresh and appealing fruits and vegetables could be offered, the committee reported.
At the high school, board member Larry Greenstein noted, "The cafeteria is not meeting market demand because many kids are ordering food" from local restaurants and delis.
"We need to focus off food and not reward with food," one speaker said during the first round of community comments. "Instead of trick-or-treating, we got tickets to exchange for trinkets. With more innovative ideas, the wellness policy will go a long way with that." Joel Katz then referenced Mr. Seiden's amendment to board policy that community comments time would be cut from three minutes to two, saying he was "shocked at this audacious step to cut community comments by a third."
Mr. Katz urged the district to create multiple election districts. Having a single voting place at Weber "disenfranchises thousands of people," he said. "I'm prepared to go to court. Your duty is to encourage the democratic process."
As tension increased in the room, Mr. Seiden merely said, "Thank you, Mr. Katz, for your comments," to which Mr. Katz replied, "That sounds disingenuous," prompting a dismissive conclusion from Mr. Seiden: "This is a free country, and you can leave the building."
Former school board member Larry Tietz questioned what happened with $375,000 from a workers compensation reserve fund that went unspent last year. Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Callahan explained that because the district came in under budget, the money would count as revenue.
Board member Jean-Marie Posner mentioned the ubiquitous Canada geese on school fields, asking whether the schools' sprinklers could be used to deter the birds. Eric Vonderhorst, director of facilities and operations, explained that the irrigation systems are "antiquated" and incompatible with motion sensors. But he did invite those with dogs to chase away the geese.
The discussion item of the night was the Emergency Preparedness Committee, a proposed task force. Cowles said that the committee must consist of a "diverse group with expertise." And, Greenstein added, with a "global perspective."
There is already a foundation of district awareness, Callahan explained, as every teacher has a manual for disaster preparedness. "We just need to fill in a lot of the spaces," she said.
Cowles extended an invitation to anyone in the community with experience in emergency preparedness to assist the board and the committee.
Discussion then shifted to another community group: the Citizens Advisory Committee, newly reconstituted for 2006-07. Last year, the board formed the committee and asked it to make suggestions about long-term capital expenditures. Board member Dr. Roy Nelson argued that the committee's establishment "closes the door to other advisory committees and in fact was used by individuals for self-aggrandizing." Dr. Nelson also said that the committee's responsibilities exceeded its members' capabilities. "The reasonableness of construction doesn't fall within their expertise," he said. "Capital issues are for the board."
Dr. Gordon defended the committee's work. "The last thing we need is a rubber-stamp committee," he said. "If there are problems with the [group's] scope, other people can be added to the board if necessary." Although board member Mark Marcellus moved to have the approval of the committee tabled, an eager Seiden recommended that the board "get this thing moving." The committee was approved with the amendment that additional members could "be designated hereafter by the board of education." The board named Mr. Forman co-chair for the coming year.
The board approved the retirement of Rose Bonanno, director of athletics, health and physical education, and Director of Guidance Ronni Smithline, effective Oct. 31. "It has been my pleasure to work with them," Ms. Cowles said. "People don't realize the challenges to our staff. Their concern for our district is outstanding."
Ms. Cowles also urged the public to enroll in the STAR program before the Dec. 31 deadline in order to receive an extra STAR refund check for all property owners with a primary residence in Port.