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Herricks Board Discusses Residency in the District

At the beginning of the regular Herricks School Board meeting, president Christine Turner called for a moment of silence in honor of the recently, and suddenly, deceased Craig Laganese, president of the Herricks Teacher’s Association.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Dr. Deirdre Hayes announced that Coach Joseph Caruso, who is the boys and girls Cross County Head Coach, was just named Coach of The Year by the Nassau County Track Coaches Association.

Another good news announcement by Dr. Hayes is that the Searingtown Librarian Karen Kliegmar applied for and received a $10,000 grant to buy E-Books and Nooks for the library.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Helen Costigan then announced that the health insurance rate has come in much lower than projected. She said, “In September they projected a 13 to 17 percent increase. In November they projected a 6.5 percent increase and the last one is a 3 percent increase. So that will help us and will enable us to bring that number in the budget down to $2.9 million. There are still some unknowns. There is a capitol adjustment, but they can’t tell us how exactly what they want us to do. I think it will be a minor impact because it is always similar to last year. We haven’t done any major capitol projects and we don’t have any in our budget so I think that will be pretty neutral. They are talking about TRF (Teacher’s Retirement Fund); it is very complicated and they don’t know which computation to use on the fund, so we are waiting on that. They are talking that we may know by January or February.

“As far as state aid is concerned, we don’t know how much state aid we will be getting and I’m using more or less the same state aid we received last year. If it is less or more, it will have an effect.

“The next issue is that finally they repealed the MTA tax. Finally, it was totally useless. It said we had to pay the MTA tax and the MTA would reimburse us. Luckily, this was repealed, effective immediately. We are not quote sure what “immediately” means. So far we have made a $26,000 payment already and we don’t know if that means we pay through today. I don’t have more details but it is good news, even though it doesn’t have an effect on the tax cap.

“The other news is that we are getting a lot of questions about how would it effect the budget if everyone in the district received the same pay as last year and if that was so the district would save $ 3 to 3.1 million.

“Further, residents want to know how to override the tax cap. We would need a 60 percent majority vote to override the tax cap.

“Again, residents wanted to know what if the budget fails it may be submitted for a second vote if it does fail; the second time there is a zero increase.”

Trustee Dr. Sanjay Jain wanted to know if the tax cap was exactly a 2 percent tax cap and Costigan said, “It is an eight step process, but, of course in January, we will have much more we can talk about regarding all of this.”

Residency Investigator

Residency Investigator Joseph Wendling then gave his report. He said, “The beginning of the year started off tremendously. The first investigation wound up with the family withdrawing. I personally was involved with 11 investigations and one pending and nine families fulfilled residency requirements in Herricks.

“The rest of the team investigated an equal number and one family was removed and there are still some in the process of investigation and everyone else panned out. Of those, who panned out, were really pretty strange and I can understand why they were reported and they did, as I said, pan out.

Herricks Superintendent Dr. Jack Bierwirth added, “We also have a number of two-families that have been reported to the town and that process moves very slowly. Herricks attorney Larry Tannenbaum is working with the town to try to come with a law that we were discussing the night that Senator Martins was here. The concept is simple. If somebody creates an illegal apartment in their house and there are children in that apartment that come to the Herricks schools, that Herricks should be able to sue the landlord for the cost of the education of those kids.”

Bierwirth continued, “The reason that this is important is that we cannot go after that family and they are in fact, for school law purposes, legal residents of the school district. It may be an illegal apartment, but they are residing there, they sleep there, they leave in the morning and go there at night. If they are eventually removed from that apartment, they leave the school district. We can’t go after them for tuition because they are residing and right now we have no power other than to sue the landlord and we really have no grounds.

“What we are trying to do with the town is to say if you created an illegal apartment in your house and there are children who come from that go to the school district we should be able to sue the landlord.

“I received a report from a member of the audience who reported to me about a household that we already reported to the town. It originally came to their notice in 2010 and it is eventually going to court in January. So, we are talking about an apartment that is illegal with children going to the Herricks school for a year-and-a-half. Assuming they will be thrown out in January, we will not be able to do anything about past tuition.

A woman in the audience said, “Basically, what you are saying if there is an illegal apartment then it’s the town’s job to remove the children.”

Bierwirth answered, “It’s the town’s job to determine it is an illegal apartment and then say that they must leave that. This can happen as soon as I hear about it from the town, which is one of our advantages of our relationship with the town and it has helped us enormously in the past. They tell me the settlement with the landlord was that the family is moving out and the town then informs me and I immediately remove those children from the Herricks rolls. Sometimes, even though they are moving they might try to keep their children in the school district; before the partnership, I might not have caught on to the fact that they were no longer residing in that illegal apartment and had moved to Mineola or someplace else, but now I know as soon as the court case is decided is that part of the deal is that they are moving out of there. But, I can’t do anything while they are still in the apartment.”

“For school district purposes as long as they are living there, they are residents. When they leave there is no one we can go after them for tuition.

“So the idea is to create a law that says if you created an illegal apartment, we can go after those people who created the apartment. In some cases, I have to tell you, some people don’t know they are renting an illegal apartment. How does anyone necessarily know that the apartment they rented is illegal?

“For school district purposes it doesn’t matter, because all that counts is where you are putting your head down at night.”

Trustee Richard Buckley added, “For the past nine months we have been discussing nothing but residency and we have really only done something about two families. The sad thing I think tells you that this is a very difficult process and that there is no simple solution. I think everyone should realize that. From the very beginning, this district has been doing everything it could do to solve the residency issue. I have been on this board nine years and for the past nine months we have done nothing but talk about the residency and not about the education of our children. How much better off are we.? Two families now are not going to our schools and we have spent many hours on residency and I don’t think we have gotten much out of it. Look, Joe, (Wendling) you are a fine man and I’m glad we have you, but in the end run I feel like we have wasted an incredible amount of time and as a board member I feel like, let’s get back to education. I think Jack (Bierwirth) you are doing a good job. From day one you are doing everything you could do. We have been pro-active about residency the entire time I have been on this board. I’m really frustrated because every time I come to board meetings all we ever talk about is residency. Can we talk about the education of our children for a change. Because this is ridiculous.”

A woman in the audience said, “Dr. Bierwirth I came to you two years ago and at that time I could not wrap my head around two-family illegal houses, but I did research and I have been up to the town and I get it. I understand that our hands are tied and I have tried to speak to the people in the community who have been upset to really explain what you are doing, what you can do.”

The same resident went on to say that recently at a dinner party the participants came up with several illegal homes that housed almost 32 children, who are attending Herricks schools illegally.

Buckley said, “However, Mr. Wendling said that many of the residents who were reported to him were not illegal and that, in fact, they were legal in the district. The point is, there are other issues in this district that are important to the children. We have a budget that is $2.9 million and I would like to talk about that a little more often than an issue that Jack was taking care of from day one, nine years ago. It comes up every single year and Jack has been taking care of it. What I am saying is, could we move on regarding the education of our children?”

Bierwirth added, “Having Joe has raised the profile and he has gotten around to the meetings and that has helped us get tips and we have investigated every tip we have gotten. The ones that we verified were okay. One family, for instance, moved to another house in the district and everyone in the neighborhood thought they were just sending their children to the school without living here. However, they moved to a different area in Herricks.”

Bierwirth said, “If we could end by saying I appreciate people sending me the tips. We have put on the website Joe’s name, as well as mine, under a section on the board of education regarding residency. So whether they call or email, it is helpful. If someone is cheating in the district by attending our schools, someone else knows about it.”

The meeting then broke and the board met with the student government at the Middle School.

The next Herricks School Board meeting will be held January 5, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. at the Herricks Community Center, 999 Herricks Road, New Hyde Park.