Written by Margaret Whitely Friday, 20 January 2012 00:00
At the beginning of the last Herricks School Board meeting, president Christine Turner said, “Just let me give you a little background regarding how we arrive at the school budget. In a normal school year the school board gives guidelines to the superintendent in preparing the budget, I would say in December. Then the superintendent, assistant superintendent and the principals and all the teams work on preparing the budget. Then the board is presented with the budget usually at the end of January. We then have budget hearings in February and March and then the board adopts the budget in March.
“This year, because of the different situation with the 2 percent cap, we started talking about the budget at the end of August and in September. At that time we talked about different possibilities. So we have been talking about the budget for a much longer time and we did things differently than we have done in the past.”
Turner continued, “We then gave the charge to the superintendent to go back and look at the numbers and then present that budget to us.
“That budget is going to be presented on January 19 when we meet at the high school; I know that an email was sent to say this is the last night we can talk about the budget, but that really is not the case, because we have not been presented with a budget. We have been talking about different scenarios, but tonight, as you can see on the agenda, is not a budgetary meeting. We are not going to be talking about the budget.
“Tonight is not the last time to talk about the budget because we haven’t even been presented with a budget.
“At the January 19 meeting, residents will have a chance to comment. However, we are always interested to hear what anyone has to say about the budget.”
Dr. Bierwirth added, “As a matter of fact I have been getting emails daily regarding suggestions about the budget, and we will be taking all of these suggestions into account when we do receive the budget.”
A resident asked, “Under the existing union contract, what would be the projected increase for the next fiscal, dollar-wise?”
Assistant Superintendent for Business, Helen Costigan said, “If everyone working in the district took a freeze of their salary for one year it would be a saving between $3 million and $3.1 million.”
The resident asked, “If the union was willing to negotiate, would the board be willing to say that whatever was given back would be used for education purposes?”
Turner answered, “The board’s goal is to preserve the programs and the teachers and the people that put that into motion. So that is always our goal. As I have said a million times, the programs that are in place now are those that the board determined to be essential to the education of the students. We, if we had a choice, would not want to change anything because obviously we put those programs together. Some of us, for years, and some who are new to the board, but obviously, we all value the programs in place.”
Vice-president Richard Buckley said, “However, we can’t really talk about the negotiations at this time because it is illegal to do that.”
Turner said, “At this point we will move into questions from the public.”
A resident congratulated Dr. Bierwirth for his award that was featured in the paper. The same resident then said, “It was mentioned in the newpaper report of the last meeting, that Mr. Buckley said, ‘For the past nine months we have been talking of nothing but residency and we really have done something only about two families.’”
Buckley then went on to say,” I am really frustrated because all we talk about is residency. Can we talk about the education of our children for a change?”
The resident went on to say, “People come to this board meeting and complain about residency because they are concerned. And, I think you owe an apology to those who are complaining because it belittles them.”
Buckley replied, “I don’t agree with you. I have been on this board for nine years and Dr. Bierwirth has done a wonderful job regarding residency and now is working even more vigorously. We, in this district, know that there is not much we can do as a district. Mainly, it is the town who can make a difference and it is not board related.
“My point was right now is we are facing a budget crisis. We took $5.1 million off the budget last year and the amount of people here tonight are not here to discuss the residency issue, but rather to discuss the budget, because the education of their children is at stake.”
Buckley continued, “We had to lay off 30 teachers last year, I think that is more important than the two or three persons we took care of due to the residency issue. So, I will not apologize for what I said, because I think it is more important. I think we should look at our children’s education first. I want to concentrate on that. I agree residency is important and I am not against everything we are doing, but we have been doing it for the last nine years and it takes away from the valuable time. I’m sorry that we talk about having more kids in each class, that’s more important than residency. So, I don’t agree with you.”
The resident responded, “So if we don’t do anything, each class will have 35 children in each classroom?”
Buckley said, “And, we are doing everything we can.”
The resident then referenced a meeting at the Town of North Hemsptead when representatives from the Elmont and New Hyde Park school districts said that people illegally living in homes in those districts are now out of those homes. She said, “I want to know how they were able to do that?”
Dr. Bierwirth said, “So are we. We can and we do.”
The resident said, “So, why were only two families involved?”
Dr. Bierwrith answered, “In the time period that was under discussion, at that board meeting, that was the number and I am about to remove another two. Sometimes we removed more due to the partnership we have formed with the town. Further, I believe we are the only ones who have that partnership, where we are having them verify if an apartment, residents are living in, are legal in the town and I am even suggesting, to all my colleagues, they do the same thing. Because, when someone comes to the school district and presents a valid, legal lease, the school district must then accept those children. But, if it turns out that apartment is illegal, eventually the family in that apartment is removed. But, we have been removing people all along.”
Trustee Dr. Sanjay Jain commented, “If any child is living either legally or illegally within the district, the district has to provide an education for that child or children.
Dr. Bierwirth said, “Everybody who is illegal is here with the knowledge of someone who is a resident of Herricks. At other board meetings we have discussed the fact that our attorney is talking to the town attorney to help create a new law that will allow a school district to go after the homeowner who has created an illegal apartment for the tuition of anyone who has been living in that apartment and attending school. When you think about it, a person living in a illegal apartment is technically living under the law. Residing in that space may be illegal, and they may not know it, but the one we are suggesting that we go after is the homeowner that created that space. Right now, all that happens to them is that the town makes them take out the extra kitchen and extra space and gives them a fine.
“The school district gets nothing out of that and we end up educating those kids. So we are trying to get a state law that will allow us to go after a homeowner.”
Another resident complained that she did not want to come to a meeting to discuss residency. Rather, to discuss the high level of education that the Herricks school district offers, especially in special education, in order to make those children ready for higher education.
The very long discussion, regarding illegal residency ended, with superintendent Bierwirth saying that he reads all his emails from about 5 a.m. throughout the day and everyone who wants to reach out and give him any information regarding illegal residency, be assured that he will follow through with those suggestions and comments.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Dr. Deirdre Hayes, reported on the fact that testing for third grade students has inceasingly become longer and more involved. In 2009 tests were 75 minutes and in 2011 tests were up to 150 minutes and for 2012 the state has scheduled three days of testing for 175 minutes per day and there have been many complaints.
Hayes said, “The PTAs have been very active in trying to correct these test times. We are working on this and we appreciate all of the help we are getting. The state seems to have lost track of children and their capabilities, especially those in the lower grades.”
Assistant Superintendent for Business, Helen Costigan reported on new construction calculations and the big item that this will affect is the tax cap. I used the same numbers as last year. So what this does is make our levy-to-levy increase not a change in assessment, but brick and mortar. This is not school construction, but construction of homes in the area. Costigan said, “I will be happy to meet with anyone who would like me to explain this complicated ruling.”
Dr. Bierwirth said, “We received $7.28 million in state aid in 2011 but, we were told that we should not expect that amount. Whatever the proposal is in the next several weeks is what we will receive, but since New York is always late, we will use the best estimate we can.
Dr. Bierwirth said, “Today, Nassau County decided certouri payments should be collectively paid for by the school districts. Since we have a relatively small amount of commercial property we will probably not be hit as hard as other districts, but it will still be a substantial number. The payments would be out of the cap. It will probably be appealed but one judge has already ruled in favor of the county decision. This will go into effect in 2013. We will talk to our lawyer later this week to see what we should do and we may be able to wait before we set money aside and it will probably not be right now.”
In other matters, the board accepted a donation from Optimum Lightpath for $10,000 to the Searingtown School for the purchase of several NOOK Color eReaders and eBooks which will allow students to explore a new digital book technology.
Further, the board accepted a donation of photography equipment from Steve DeClemente of West Islip.
The board also accepted a donation from John Viollis of Personal Best Fitness, Merrick of two exercise bicycles.
The board also approved a proposal for a performance tour to Washington, D.C. from March 22 to March 25 for 10th to 12th grade members of the Wind Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, Symphonic Band and Jazz Ensemble at an estimated cost of $650 per person. The students will participate in the Washington Heritage Music Festival involving adjudication and performances. In addition the students will tour Washington, D. C.