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Short But Meaty August 3 School Board Meeting

In keeping with the summer season, the School Board breezed through its meeting of Tuesday, August 3. But it got a lot done.

Dr. Gordon and the board were very pleased to accept some significant gifts from the community to the school district and students: $30,000 from the Port Washington Education Foundation for numerous grants across the district; $1,200 from the Weber Middle School H.S.A. (Home-School Association) for a Cultural Arts program on the Holocaust; money raised by the AAPW and the Parent Baseball Committee for regulation backstop; batting cage; bullpen; and two dugouts, at the baseball field at Guggenheim elementary; and enough money from the Port Washington Soccer club to reinstate three of the four soccer teams that had been cut for budget reasons. As District Athletic Director Joannon explained, “That’s 75 kids playing, who wouldn’t have.”

 

The Board also adopted, by roll call vote, the final numbers that will result in the official tax levy for school taxes this year. Mary Callahan, assistant superintendent for business affairs, later confirmed that the percent increase will be 1.94 percent.

The Board also approved members of the Audit Advisory Committee for the 2010-2011 year, including board and community members.

Under the Curriculum heading, the board accepted recommendations by the Committee on Special Education and the Committee on Pre-School Education, and Special Education arrangements.

Many significant changes were approved in the Personnel measures:

- Daly teacher Sheri Suzzan was named as the new Director of Creative Arts.

- Mr. Carmine Matina was appointed temporary replacement for Schreiber Assistant Principal Ms. Julie Torres, who is on maternity leave.

- The Board accepted Mr. Jay Lewis’ resignation as principal of Schreiber High School, and appointed Dr. Frank Banta as his interim replacement.

Dr. Banta spoke briefly, noting that he handed off the principalship of Schreiber (in a previous term as interim principal) to Mr. Lewis when he arrived, six years ago, and has kept in touch since, so he anticipated no difficulty in maintaining the academic excellence Schreiber has achieved, as well as preserving the opportunities that have been created for students at every level to excel. Mr. Lewis spoke even more briefly, saying, “It’s been my pleasure to serve as principal of this great high school. I feel Schreiber is ready for even greater heights. Thank you to the board, and to central administration; I leave with a lump in my throat.”

And the board approved a new contract with Dr. Gordon as superintendent, which will run through June of 2015.

Under Old Business, Dr. Gordon brought up a running battle he has had with the town – specifically, with Town Councilman Fred Pollack – over parking spaces. “I spoke with Councilman Pollack several years ago about the six spaces for our teachers, in the commuter lot off Vanderventer. (Note: These are the spaces that face the side of the Bagel Boss building.) We got them one year, when Mr. Hohauser essentially forced the issue, in the presence of Mr. Seiden and (then-Board member) Jean-Marie Posner. But it seems that every year, Mr. Pollack – on his own – takes those spaces back, and every year Mr. Hohauser has to ask again.

“Our enrollment has not decreased, although it has elsewhere in Nassau County,” continued Dr. Gordon, “and we still need those spaces for our teachers. Mr. Pollack tried to charge us $1,000 a space! We said no way, and got them at no cost – but we need them back now. I think it would be a good gesture if he could return those spaces to our use.”

Mr. Hohauser added, “Everybody, I want you to call Fred’s office in town hall right now. There’s no other way he’ll get the message.” Someone asked “What’s the number?” Hohauser responded, “3-1-1 will certainly do it.”

In other business, Ms. Sandra Ehrlich announced that the New York State School Boards Association, or NYSSBA, is holding its annual conference this year in New York City, October 21-24, which therefore presents a tremendous opportunity for board members to attend at just the cost of admission. (The conference is often held in Albany.) “When I was a new board member, in the 1990s, I attended the new board member academy and found it extremely valuable. I cannot urge you enough to attend,” she said to the board’s newest member, Mr. Robert Ryan.

Ms. Ehrlich also urged the board to take advantage of a special offer to rejoin the organization. “It we take the three month trial membership, and then join, it would be $2,721 for the rest of the calendar year,” she said. Membership would, however, jump to $10,000 in the year after – a fact which seemed to give the majority of the board pause. Larry Greenstein has consistently advocated board membership in the organization, and Dr. Nelson agreed with the idea; but Board President Sloan pointed out that “We voted as a board not to join,” Rob Seiden did not see the necessity, and Mr. Ryan did not feel able to spend the money when this item had not been budgeted for (in fact, it had specifically been cut from this year’s budget.) Ultimately, the recommendation was defeated, 4-3.

Dr. Gordon did, however, point out that there would be sufficient money in the board’s budget line for any board members who wish to simply attend the conference. Additionally, Mr. Ryan as a new board member is required to attend a mandatory Fiscal Training session.

Under New Business, Larry Greenstein introduced a measure which he hopes will get the attention of New York State, and force it to address, if not redress, a number of “systematic imbalances” in how schools are funded which every year seem to guarantee the school board a great deal of financial trouble.

“The Board of Education hereby resolves the following…. We urge our Federal, State and local representatives to look at ideas such as:

- A circuit breaker for Real Estate Taxes as proposed by the non-partisan League of Women voters;

- A cap on increases in Pension and Health Care costs;

- Using futures to guarantee a predictable energy cost;

- Determine State Aid a year in advance so that districts are not left with last-minute surprises;

- End all unfunded mandates;

- Allow greater flexibility (on busing); and a 90-day turnaround time for approving ‘aidable’ construction projects, i.e. projects which the State to any extent reimburses with aid.”

The board and Dr. Gordon were agreed that this was an idea whose time has come. “I commend Larry on this,” said Dr. Gordon. “For years, the state sends mandates down and walks away from the responsibility. As we sit here, we have children and teachers coming back to this building in a month, and we do not know what New York State is going to give us! We need to control our taxpayers, and the board has zero control over it. This would force the state to come out of its cocoon, and give every board the facts of what it has to work with – in time to work with it.”

After brief discussion, amending the measure to include federal and local as well as State representatives, the board approved the resolution 7-0. Mr. Seiden suggested sending it “forthwith” to other school boards, to officials, to NYSSBA, and to local media.

In Community Comments, Mr. Hank Ratner expressed strong disappointment that the electronic message board at the corner of Campus Drive and Port Boulevard does not work. He said he has driven to other districts, including Great Neck and Roslyn, to see if their boards work.

Mrs. Callahan said she shared Mr. Ratner’s dismay. She said she has checked with other districts and asked them who their vendors were, in order to ask them if they could repair our sign. All have said, “It is beyond repair.” The Administration is hoping that $20,000 can be earmarked for a new sign, out of $350,000 they are expecting from New York State to repay the district for money already spent on the newly completed track. State Senator Craig Johnson is coordinating this aid.

A check with Senator Johnson’s office produced confirmation that the $350,000 is indeed supposed to come from the state Dormitory Authority. “We are hopeful that the Dormitory Authority will release the funds post-haste. The ball is in their court, and we will do everything in our power to move that ball,” Johnson’s spokesperson said.

The meeting was adjourned by 9:30 p.m. The board will try to get the dates and times for Budget, Community Relations, and other committee meetings to the Port Washington News, to encourage more of the community to attend.