Opinions expressed in Larry Wornum's recent letter to the editor are strictly his own and do not reflect those of the Westbury Board of Education. And while we firmly support Mr. Wornum's right to free speech, certain statements made by him need clarification or correction so that the public is served by factual information, rather than simply the views of one school board trustee.

Mr. Wornum's claim of a budget deficit of $338,000 for the 2009-2010 school year is somewhat misleading since the Westbury Public Schools is not now, nor plans to operate in a deficit situation. Simply defined, a budget deficit occurs when an entity, such as a school district, spends more money than it takes in and Westbury has consistently produced balanced budgets, a fact supported by our independent auditors, the New York State Comptroller's Office and others.

Superintendent [Dr. Constance] Clark-Snead, however, has warned of the possibility of cuts in state aid to education under Governor [David] Paterson's proposed budget and has gone on record as vehemently opposed to such cuts. Opposition to cuts in education is fully supported by this board, and by our state legislators. Prudence dictates we take into account the likelihood of any reduction in state aid and plan for it accordingly, either through spending cuts or addressing the issue on the revenue side. Let us again state that the financial health of the district remains strong and there is no budget deficit.

Another issued raised by our colleague is the proposal of a press box for Fitzgerald Field at Westbury High School, to be funded by the proceeds of the vending rights agreement with Coca Cola; no taxpayer dollars will be used for this project. It has been suggested that the press box would be used for the exclusive benefit of the administration and board of education, an assertion that is incorrect. The enclosed booth will provide the Westbury Schools with the chance to offer an improved athletic field not just for local events, but regional sporting events we have been hosting with increasing frequency. Home and visiting coaches will be afforded a better vantage point for filming athletic events and assessing the athlete's abilities. Another important aspect of a press box is providing a platform for college scouts to see just how good our student athletes are.

Mr. Wornum suggests doing away with certain consultants as a means of saving taxpayers money, and we don't entirely disagree with that view. The board of education constantly reviews the need for outside professional services. The use of such services is entirely proper and quite common among local units of government. The consultants we retain are professionals who bring certain expertise to the district that we do not have in-house, such as law, public relations, lobbying services and other professional disciplines. It would be far too costly and impractical to hire these professionals on a full-time basis. Westbury's consultants do not receive any employee benefits from the district.

To address our fellow board member's concern about the $7,000 expense for Westbury High School's graduation ceremonies at C.W. Post, we respectfully disagree with his suggestion to discontinue what have become a tradition and a fitting tribute to send our graduates off into the world. Westbury High School's graduating seniors, their friends and families are afforded special memories they will hold forever. We are mindful of every district expense, but taking away this special day is a disservice to our graduates who have worked hard to get to this important milestone in their lives.

We remain positive about the accomplishments of our students in all key areas of socialization, athletics and academics. We are pleased to note that all of our schools remain in "good standing" as recognized by the New York State Education Department.

The board of education is proud of our students, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged homes, often with limited English proficiency. Our children work hard in school and we in turn must provide them with the accolades they deserve for their efforts. Not merely content to rest on our students' accomplishments, we continue to promote academic excellence and are pleased that our high school graduation rate still eclipses that of the state average. More of our graduating seniors are going on to some of the best two- and four-year colleges and universities in the country, and that the entire community should take pride in.

Finally, we hold no malice or ill will toward our colleague, Mr. Wornum, and, as stated at the onset, fully support his right to opine as a private citizen. Collectively as elected officials, however, we have a responsibility to present our constituents with clear, accurate and factual information, one we take most seriously. Anything short of living up to that responsibility violates the trust you have placed in us.

Dr. Pless M. Dickerson

President, Westbury Board of Education

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