The Sept. 6 board of education meeting, the first of the 2006-2007 school year, began with a warm welcome from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoffrey Gordon. "[This school year] was absolutely a wonderful opening and I can't thank the staff and students enough," Dr. Gordon said. "The parents did a great job."
One of the first concerns raised was the issue of enrollment for this school year. All elementary schools have appropriate class sizes, ranging from 18 and 22 students, except for Manorhaven. Certain classes exceed 22 students, opening the potential for another section. There are still issues in Schreiber High School for classes such as home economics. Dr. Gordon gave an update on the much-anticipated installation of Go turf on the Whitney field, known as the Pit, on the north side of campus drive. The Athletic Association of Port Washington raised much of the money for this project, which is also supported by a state grant. "It was a tremendous job," Dr. Gordon said. "By having this turf field we are going to be able to provide more access to keep kids acting in a positive way." The Port Washington Education Foundation has recently supported many teacher grants. The grants have helped institute programs such as Writing Across the Curriculum in schools across the district. The math resource program has been revamped, so help is available not only for students who are struggling but also for gifted students whose needs are not being met. New classes have been created at Schreiber, including AP Psychology, full-year AP macro- and microeconomics and robotics. Many programs in Weber have also been expanded. Gordon expressed that students are getting involved who hadn't had the test scores for other opportunities.
In community comments, Peter Wezenaar was the first up to the mike, eager to express his concerns about the teacher contract. He asked whether the board would disclose annual percentage increases for the teachers' salary and what the givebacks are for the new contract.
Lisa Davidoff, president of the Weber HSA, welcomed the new assistant principal to Weber. Referring to the money, about $2,500, that a Weber math teacher has been charged with stealing by double-billing for overtime, Frank Russo said teachers should repay the district out of their salaries instead of having the taxpayers pay for it. Not only should the teachers make good on the stolen money, Mr. Russo said, but they should also chip in to pay for her salary while she is suspended. Under civil-service law, the district is required to continue paying a teacher's salary while a case such as this is pending. The theft was reported to the district attorney in September 2005.
The board then moved to discussion of the proposed teachers' contract. Mark Marcellus went over the main points of the agreement: It is a four-year contract with a raise of 2 percent for the 2005-06 school year and a 3.25 percent raise in each of the three following years. Step increases for teachers have changed slightly, permitting the district to hire teachers with prior experience at lower salaries than previously allowed. Union members will be required to contribute 20 percent of the cost of their health-insurance premiums, up from 5 percent; the increase will be phased in over the course of the contract. The district will not be required to provide health insurance to newly hired teachers covered under another person's "substantially equivalent" health insurance policy as long as that policy remains in effect. Elementary teachers will have to be in school for an additional 15 minutes of non-teaching time one day a week this year. This time can be used for preparation or for meetings. Next year, 15 minutes will be added to a second day. Elementary teachers already have 10 minutes of non-teaching time at the beginning of each day, giving them one of the longest contractual days in Nassau County.
Marcellus called the contract a reasonable increase for the taxpayers of Port Washington. "We believe in a contract that is fair to both parties," he said. "We've only had a good partnership with our teachers and we hope that continues." Board member Patrick Foye mentioned that the 2.93 percent average annual salary increase is significantly less than the Consumer Price Index for 2005, which was 3.9 percent for Long Island. Board member Dr. Roy Nelson thanked the mediator who helped bridge the gap between the board and the teachers. "This is a very good settlement for everybody," Dr. Gordon said. Before everyone realized the moment they had been waiting for was finally here, the contract was ratified 6-0.
Business moved along to the newly opened position of director of health, physical education and athletics. Dr. Gordon proposed the addition of a high school athletic coordinator and health coordinator to lighten the director's load. Board member Jean-Marie Posner asked whether there were other schools that have a structure similar to this but was answered with no. The board welcomed the newest addition to Weber, Assistant Principal Matthew Swinson. Dr. Gordon congratulated the seven National Merit finalists at Schreiber. They are Ben Jaffe, Elizabeth Schechner, Daniel Stewart, John Forman, Chris Catalano, Emlyn Diakow and Andrew Seiden. Edward Sallie, assistant superintendent for business, discussed the search for a new director of creative arts. The district received 17 résumés, which were narrowed down to eight candidates, four of whom are being looked at more closely for the position. The district has an opening for an assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, a position that Dr. Charles Piemonte is filling on an interim basis, and for a Director of English as a Second Language. Dr. Gordon said that the district's most at-risk population is continuing to rise. "We have to somehow intervene for these kids," he said. The position was emptied as a function of the budget but can now be reinstated. "We owe kids to give them the best shot we can," board member Larry Greenstein said.