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After-School Program Deficit Addressed at Levittown BOE Meeting

Residents Concerned with Students’

Food, Security at Division Avenue After Arson

The Levittown Public School District’s Board of Education gathered for one of its regular public meetings on Jan. 13. Held at the Levittown Memorial Education Center, the meeting was the first that the board has convened since the start of the new year.

The conference began with a presentation by members of the Gerald R. Claps Career and Technical Center (GC Tech) Key Club. They presented a Pediatric Trauma Kit to a representative of the Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC) as a donation.

“The child-sized emergency equipment that is contained in the Pediatric Trauma Kit play a vital role in saving lives of children in need at the scene of an emergency,” explained the club’s secretary.

Through its fund-raising efforts, the Key Club had collected the $1,000 necessary to purchase the kit on behalf of the NUMC. The NUMC representative expressed his sincere gratitude as he was presented with the kit.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure to accept this donation,” he said.

Following this presentation, board member Gina Interdonato offered thanks to a number of local organizations and businesses that had worked in cooperation with the Levittown School District to provide food, clothing, and gifts to needy families during last year’s Christmas season.

“We were able to get gifts out to 100 families and food to 100 families,” she said.

She also noted that the PJ Finnegan’s sports bar on Hempstead Turnpike had opened its doors to and fed roughly 100 people on Christmas Day.

Afterward, the board listened to another presentation, this one given by the district’s internal auditor regarding the Levittown After-School Program (LAP), an auxiliary education service offered to elementary-grade students. The LAP has come under intense scrutiny over the past year, after it was discovered that the tuition fees being charged to enrollees were not high enough to fully compensate for the cost of running the program, consequently resulting in a budget deficit. The district’s auditor confirmed that the program had indeed accrued a budget deficit over the previous school year, and projected another one for this year as well. He cited the recent expansion of the program and the district’s failure to appropriately adjust tuition rates to accommodate the corresponding increase in expenses as the reason for the budget shortfall. To resolve this issue, the auditor suggested that the district raise the tuition fees that it charges – something that it has not done in the 10-year history of the program.

“It wouldn’t really need to be that much on a per child basis,” he noted.

After the auditor had finished his presentation, the meeting entered its Public Be Heard phase, which allowed audience members who had signed up in advance the opportunity to address the board with their questions, comments or concerns.

The most prevalent issue that was raised by speakers was with regard to the food and beverages that are sold to students in the schools’ cafeterias and vending machines. Several speakers argued that the food and drinks were not adequately nutritious and thereby violated food service contracts. For example, it was reported that vending machines offered lemonade that contained only 10 percent real fruit juice, significantly less than the percentage that is mandated by the contracts. It was also reported that canned foods were being served in place of fresh food and generic meat products in place of Boar’s Head brand, also violating contractual terms. The speakers urged the district to hire an individual specifically to oversee the work of the food service vendors and ensure that the contracts are abided by.

Several speakers also addressed the issue of security on school grounds. Their concerns stemmed from a recent act of arson on Division Avenue High School’s football field that caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage, as well as prior complaints about crowds of teenagers gathering on school grounds after dark and engaging in various illegal activities. Both the speakers and the board generally credited the current security staff with doing everything within its power to curb such activities; the task has simply become an overwhelming one. The board said that it would explore the possibility of upgrading surveillance technology on school grounds to supplement the work of the security staff.

One speaker alerted the board to the potential dangers that the red light camera installed near MacArthur High School may pose to students, noting that Nassau County’s official website reports that there has generally been a higher risk of vehicular accidents in the vicinity of such cameras. The board acknowledged that it shared the same concerns as the speaker, but said that it has no official say in the installation or removal of a red light camera. However, the board said that it would contact the appropriate local legislator(s) and request that the camera near MacArthur be removed.

Another topic of discussion was the public campaign to institute competitive swimming as a high school sport in the district. Since this time last year, a number of students and community members have been raising funds and lobbying the board to approve the formation of a district swim team. Their aspirations have thus far not come to fruition, but they nevertheless continued to plead their case before the board.

“The issue of a high school swim team has been an issue for over 10 years now,” one of the campaigners told the board, “and it was agreed [among the board] that it was now time to try to form one.”

The board said that it will continue to consider the proposal for a swim team and will make a decision on it as it prepares the budget for the upcoming school year.

Following the Public Be Heard session, the board discussed various administrative matters, such as budget transfers and the approval or rejection of bids. The board also took a few minutes to express its collective grief at the unfortunate passing of Jino Masone, who had served as the Clerk of the Works for the Levittown district since 1998.

“This is a real loss,” Interdonato lamented. She noted that Masone had saved the district “thousands and thousands of dollars” in the course of his work. Board member James P. Ward recalled that Masone played an instrumental role in the construction of the press box at Division Avenue’s football field, which had suffered damage in the recent arson fire. Board Vice President Michael Pappas suggested that the box should be dedicated to Masone after it is rebuilt.

The board’s next regular public meeting is currently scheduled for February 10, 2010, at 7:30 p.m.