Written by Thomas Duffy Friday, 18 September 2009 00:00
On Sept. 9, the Levittown Public School District’s Board of Education gathered for one of its regular public meetings.
The meeting was held at 7:30 p.m. at the Levittown Memorial Education Center. Only a few hours earlier, the Levittown district had concluded its opening day of classes for the 2009/10 school year.
At the outset of the meeting, the board discussed the outcome of the highly controversial busing referendum, Proposition #2, that had been passed during the budget vote last May. The referendum increased the distance from schools that students would have to live in order to be eligible for bus services, thus making less children eligible for busing and thereby saving the district an estimated $800,000 per year in transportation expenses. Although receiving public approval via the budget vote, the measure had been the target of widespread criticism and had led to disruptive protests among audiences at other board meetings. Many district residents complained that with many more parents put in the position of having to drive their children to and from school, the referendum would drastically worsen traffic conditions in and around the schools and create a much more chaotic and hazardous environment for the students. However, Dr. Herman A. Sirois, superintendent of schools, reported at this meeting that there did not appear to be a substantial increase in traffic at the beginning or end of the school day, and there had been little or none of the anticipated mayhem. The audience applauded this announcement. The board also took note of the diligent efforts of both the district’s staff and the PTA to help curtail any potential problems that day.
Following this discussion, Assistant Superintendent Debbie Rifkin of the Department of Instruction presented a report on the Levittown district’s recent School Report Card grade. The School Report Card is a statewide evaluation of school districts conducted annually by the New York State Education Department (NYSED). According to Rifkin, the Levittown district received a “Good Standing” grade, the highest grade that a district can be awarded by the Report Card. Although pleased with this result, she noted that “it’s not all that high of a standard to meet” and said that the district had “met this criteria year after year.” She recommended to the board that the district set and maintain higher standards for itself beyond those that are mandated by NYSED. Dr. Sirois shared the same sentiment.
Rifkin rounded out her presentation by stating, “We really have to prepare our children for tomorrow’s world. This is the 21st century, and hopefully with Levittown 20/20 and increasing and improving our standards, we’re going in this direction together.”
The next item on the agenda was the Public Be Heard session, which granted audience members opportunities to address the board with their questions, concerns, or comments. This particular Public Be Heard was distinctly shorter than those of most other meetings this year, owing to the small number of speakers – a mere five – and it featured little if not none of the hostility toward the board that had often typified other sessions. In fact, two of the five speakers used their time only to express their appreciation for the board’s hard work.
Of the other three speakers, two women addressed the board together to discuss the matter of teenagers, sometimes numbering as many as a hundred or more, gathering on Division Avenue High School’s property at night and engaging in hostile, lewd, and outright illegal behavior.
She claimed that the teenagers sometimes menace her and refuse to step out of her way as she and a friend walk around the school’s track at night, and one time one of them threw a football in her direction. She also said that she saw members of the school’s security staff often sit a short distance away watching these events unfold and refuse to make any effort to thwart them or intervene on her behalf – even when she pleads with them to. The woman also noted that many of the teenagers do not actually attend Division, but rather other schools in the district or even ones outside of it.
Several board members said that they had also visited the school grounds at night and witnessed similar scenes unfold. The board said it would work to enhance security measures at the school, urge local police forces to increase their presence in the area, and take disciplinary action against those students of the district revealed to be taking part in these activities.
The final speaker of the meeting, the mother of a child attending Gardiners Avenue Elementary School, addressed the board to dispute its earlier report that the start and finish of the school day had “gone smoothly” across the district. She described the release of students from Gardiners Avenue at the end of the day as being “chaotic” and likened the process to a scene from an insane asylum. She claimed that the teachers failed to maintain order and were confused as to what child was supposed to be released to each parent. She became emotional as she expressed genuine concern for the safety of these children and implored the board to take immediate action before, “a child is abducted” from that school. Another woman in the audience spoke out and told the board she had also been present at Gardiners Avenue at that time and corroborated the speaker’s portrayal of events. Board Vice President Michael Pappas, however, said he had been there as well and did not see the sort of disorder that was being described. However, the board said it would promptly investigate the matter and take whatever steps were necessary to correct any problems.
Following the Public Be Heard session, the board spent the remainder of the meeting discussing and voting on a number of administrative matters. It reviewed various schedules, policies, bids, and budget transfers, and approved a proposal to donate or discard obsolete library books. As of this writing, the board is scheduled to meet again for a planning session on Sept. 23 and for another regular meeting on Oct. 14.