Written by Jill Nossa Saturday, 30 March 2013 00:00
The Glen Head-Glenwood Business Association (GHGWBA) hosted a newly formed activist group called the North Shore District Reform Group (NSDRG) at its monthly meeting for March.
NSDRG president Vito Palmieri of Glen Head was the keynote speaker, along with two North Shore Board of Education candidates affiliated with NSDRG, Marianne Manning Russo and Michael Nightingale. Also participating were NSDRG Vice President/Treasurer Lawrence Ruisi and NSDRG Vice President Vincent Cefalu.
The NSDRG shared concerns about how the North Shore School District is run. They presented a mission statement to the GHGWBA, which includes getting new trustees elected to the North Shore Board of Education and seeking to cut costs in the school budget.
It was noted that school Superintendent Dr. Ed Melnick asked to participate in the meeting, but the GHGWBA asked him not to come.
Palmieri opened up the meeting explaining that when the North Shore Board of Education recently decided to eliminate Italian language classes from the curriculum, he and other members of the community felt that their concerns about it were not properly addressed. He said the board let people speak about losing Italian but he didn’t believe they took the protests seriously.
“We want to change the way people are looked at, the way the community is looked at… when they are spending out money,” Palmieri said.
He and the two board of education candidates all were clear that they don’t advocate voting down the school budget.
“The school district does make our homes have good values…. To vote against the budget, we’re only hurting ourselves,” Palmieri said, adding, “…whatever we do will affect our home values, we need a district that performs.”
The group did say, however, that they believe they could find savings in the school budget. Candidate Marianne Manning Russo said, “We should analyze every program… doing a ‘cost benefit analysis’ like you would do if you were running a business.” She said that Dr. Melnick was an “excellent educator, but he’s an educator,” adding that while the school administration would focus on learning, the board should focus on running the school like a business.
On the budget, Russo said, “You don’t want to vote down the budget. Then you get faceless bureaucrats stepping in from New York State.”
Like Palmieri, candidate Michael Nightingale also said he felt his concerns were ignored over Italian classes. He accused the board of making their decisions behind closed doors and then voting in unison once they come to the public meeting. Nightingale said this stops open discussion and keeps people from knowing what individual board members think.
“The board works hard and they have the best interest of the students in mind,” Nightingale said, “but they have an information flow problem… information is deliberately stifled… They pre-make decisions behind the scenes.” He added that he believes “other officials could better represent the actual interests of the community.”
When speaking on the budget, Nightingale also said, “I don’t think voting down the budget helps anything. But, things could come of the budget, especially now to make up for LIPA.”
When asked for a response to the statements made at the meeting, Dr. Melnick told the Record Pilot, “I am extremely proud if the work of the Board and administration for the exemplary business practices and money saving initiatives we have put in place. These efforts have resulted in North Shore having a stronger fiscal outlook than most other districts in NY. In fact our quality business practices have been recognized by the NYS Comptroller’s Office, and by Moody’s in their strong rating of the District. Every audit report has commended the cost effective business practices of the district. Further, the building of the bus depot, the conservative contract settlements and the energy management contract have saved residents over $23 million dollars over the past seven years. Again, I am very proud of our business practices. However, I welcome any and all thoughts and suggestions about how we might be able to save additional funds.”