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Editorial: Speak Up At School Board Public Hearings, Someone Listens

Often we hear residents complain about a local issue but when you suggest they speak up at a public hearing the answer most likely is this: “Why bother, no one listens.” Wrong! Really wrong, especially when you speak up at a school board hearing. The board of education and the superintendent of schools at the Great Neck School District listen very carefully to each and every speaker. And, what’s more, they consider each word, each thought, each comment. 

Decisions are never rash or abrupt at our schools. Decisions are always well thought out and well reasoned. And they take time. Final approvals can take weeks, months, even more than a year when controversial components are in play. Even when you might think a decision is at hand, if residents come forward with additional comments and concerns, the board of education will stop and take more time to reconsider every point of view.

New, revised or deleted school board policies require at least three public hearings prior to adoption. For highly controversial policies (when time is not of the essence) there is no set limit. The satisfaction of all of the issues involved determines adoption.

We saw this happen just last Monday evening, Feb. 11 when the board again heard the policy change proposal that would no longer permit teachers to tutor students in their own schools. The prior two hearings brought forth much discussion, with much of it against this change. Then the board held the proposal for a few months, as the policy committee met to reconsider possible changes. The item was on the agenda that evening, with the expectation that the revision would be approved. However, when just three more parents and teachers brought up some different concerns, the school board members listened very carefully and quickly decided that more time was necessary. They did not hesitate to go back to committee with more food for thought. And President Barbara Berkowitz was clear that the proposal would not come back to public session for a vote until all concerns were thoroughly discussed.

Yes, our school board is an exemplary model for all entrusted with the well being of members of the public. However, we do feel confident that most, if not all, of our municipal boards do take the time to consider public opinion. So do go and speak up, make your voice heard and try to make a change if you do not agree.

And if you believe that any local board does not give members of the public the attention they deserve, do tell them to attend just one school board meeting and learn a bit about truly responsive government.

We thank our board of education for all they do, so honorably and so responsibly on behalf of all of us. Thank you President Barbara Berkowitz, Vice President Lawrence Gross, board trustees Donald Ashkenase, Monique Bloom and Susan Healy, and thank you to Superintendent of Schools Thomas Dolan and all of his administrators, teachers and staff!

- Wendy Karpel Kreitzman