The board of education met on Dec. 5 to discuss the possible creation of new polling places for school elections and the renaming of Schreiber's gym to honor the memory of Dan Biro, a former Port teacher and coach. Board members expressed their desire to rename the Schreiber gym or some other facility to honor Mr. Biro. But the issue raised a larger set of questions: How should the district commemorate influential persons, both past and future? The board unanimously agreed that Mr. Biro's accomplishments lent themselves to recognition. Mr. Biro, a lifelong resident of Port Washington, a fixture at Schreiber High School and an acclaimed coach, died in 2006 after a brief retirement. Highly praised for his commitment to coaching, Mr. Biro is credited with the success of Schreiber's football team. In 1975, his commitment was honored with the Coach of the Year award. "This is an exceptional situation," said board vice president Mark Marcellus. "It is important to preserve the town's history." Mr. Biro's outstanding contribution to the district made a decision to honor him obvious. Board member Lawrence Greenstein stated, "If anyone deserves to be honored, it is Mr. Biro. "But," he added, "I am not sure how exactly we should go about doing it."
The board found itself in a difficult position. With other naming projects, such as the naming of the high school after Paul D. Schreiber, the honoree's specific contributions are often unknown to the next generation. As Board President Robert Seiden put it, it is "disappointing that there are buildings named after people, yet people don't know who they were." As a way to ensure that the accomplishments of important figures are remembered, Mr. Seiden suggested that plaques be placed in buildings or facilities that have been named for influential persons. Further, the board was wary that if it named a facility after one person, it would be overloaded with requests to name other facilities after deceased teachers. The board found it difficult to determine which accomplishments are worthy of specific praise. Aside from introducing the issue, the board could agree only that some sort of recognition of Mr. Biro was necessary. How to go about creating that recognition was a knottier problem, and one the board decided would benefit from community input. "I think it is necessary to open the issue up to community discussion," Mr. Seiden said.
The central issue of the meeting was the possible creation of new polling places for school elections. The issue, which community members have raised unsuccessfully in previous years, recently came up after the League of Women Voters contacted the board. League representatives said they had received a number of letters from community members upset with turnout at the one polling place on Campus Drive. Mr. Seiden acknowledged that certain board members had received similar letters. One change in district practices that may make the establishment of another polling place in town more feasible is continuous registration. In the past, district residents registered to vote in district elections by showing up at the Campus Drive polling place and stating that they were American citizens who had lived in the district for the 30 days preceding the election. A poll worker typed up a card, and the resident walked to a voting machine and voted in that day's election. This year, for the first time, registration was coordinated with the Nassau County Board of Elections. Now citizens can register at any time of the year. "Before the installation of continuous registration, it was only possible to have one polling place," board member Nancy Cowles said. But, as the board observed, there have been various issues with having only one polling place, such as difficult parking conditions and the distance from major residential sections in the north end of Port Washington, such as Soundview, Manorhaven and Sands Point.
The newest member of the board, Patrick Foye, outlined three reasons to increase the number of polling places. First, he said, voting is a fundamental right, and the board has every responsibility to enfranchise voters even if it costs the district. Second, Foye noted that failing to do so could give the impression that the board does not want to increase democracy in the district. And third, because voters only have one real chance to be heard on school matters, and because school taxes make up the bulk of residents' taxes, the board would be irresponsible if it did not seek to increase voter turnout.
Although the board was in general agreement with Mr. Foye, other members foresaw possible issues that might arise if it did indeed create new polling places. "It is a good thing to increase voter turnout, but at what cost is it justified?" asked Jean-Marie Posner. Also, some on the board asked whether efforts to increase turnout could enfranchise certain areas at the expense of others. All other factors aside, the board's immediate concern was how to increase voter turnout at the one polling station already in operation. "I agree that we need to move forward," said Mr. Marcellus, "but we must also do something to alleviate the traffic on Campus Drive. We should add more polling places for the sheer reason that it is the right thing to do, but I am skeptical that it would have a huge effect." Superintendent Geoffrey Gordon agreed that as much as possible should be done to alleviate traffic. But he insisted that the district expand polling somehow, and that these new polling places be located outside school facilities for the sake of students' safety. "In today's day and age, we should be careful not to let the public roam around our schools," Dr. Gordon said. The bottom line, he added, is that expanding the polls "represents an effort of the board to reach out to the community," and, he concluded, "the board can't call itself progressive unless it does something to reach out." The board did not come to a decision on the issue. It urged Port Washington residents to discuss the matter and e-mail Mary Callahan with their questions and comments. Mrs. Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the superintendent's remarks, he discussed the traffic accident that occurred at the bottom of Radcliff Avenue in early December as a result of underage drinking. Dr. Gordon urged parents to take an active role in discouraging underage drinking. "To the school, the most difficult thing is dealing with things that happen on Saturday nights," he said. "We have to work with parents and teachers in order to prevent another accident like this one. The board understands that kids are doing a good job, but we can't put our heads in the sand. We must fight this abuse in our society." In other news, 0.2 units of guidance were added to Guggenheim and Daly schools. The money for the addition was made available by the retirement of the district's athletic director last year. On behalf of the guidance department, Director of Guidance Hank Hardy thanked the board for increasing the guidance department in the elementary schools. "Our elementary guidance programs reinforce skills that students use on the sports fields and in the classroom," Mr. Hardy said. "Counselors can provide crisis support to students in need. Also, some counselors are bilingual and can use their specific skills to help students and families integrate into the district." In community comments, Peter Wezenaar expressed his dislike for the practice of naming district facilities after people. "It is a better idea to name the high school and middle school after Port Washington, not after people," he said. At the meeting, community members came out in support of naming Schreiber's gym after Mr. Biro. "Mr. Biro dedicated his life to the school district,' said Schreiber social studies teacher Harry Anderson. "He deserves it." Mr. Biro's daughter, Lee Margley, was also at the meeting. Mrs. Margley presented a packet illustrating her father's accomplishments to the board and urged them to honor her father's legacy. Myron Blumenfeld urged the board to re-evaluate the parking and driving situation around Campus Drive. He mentioned that in 2004, he hired a parking engineer to evaluate the parking situation around Montfort Road, and that he thinks the results of the study have largely been ignored by the district. Mr. Blumenfeld urged the board to fix the "dangerous" parking situation and to take the problem seriously before someone gets hurt.