Two popular teachers who faced budget-related layoffs will be back in Greenport thanks to a state retirement incentive program that enticed other teachers to pack it in this year.
English teacher Luke Conti and physical education teacher Todd Gulluscio were rehired this month by the Greenport Board of Education at a reorganizational meeting July 7. Mr. Conti was reinstated effective July 1. Mr. Gulluscio was appointed to a three-year probationary position as athletic director and dean of discipline, also as of July 1.
At the same meeting, the board accepted retirement requests from teachers Donna Foster, Anne McDonald, Valerie Andrews, Barbara Klos, Robert Costantini, Thomas Rabbitt and Michael Connolly. Those early retirements left the district with enough funding to rehire the laid-off teachers.
But both Mr. Rabbitt and Mr. Connolly will still be seen around the halls at Greenport School because they have accepted part-time positions for the coming school year. Mr. Rabbitt will be part-time director of special education. Mr. Connolly has accepted a non-tenured part-time teaching position in the English department. Each will receive a $30,000 salary in addition to their retirement benefits.
In April, Mr. Conti and Mr. Gulluscio were informed that budget constraints required cuts in their respective departments and that, because they were the last hired, they had to be the first fired according to the teacher contract. Word quickly spread around the school that the two popular educators would be leaving, prompting students to put homework aside for a night to attend a board meeting and make a plea for saving the two teachers.
They credited Mr. Conti and Mr. Galluscio with significantly motivating them. Student James McEnaney told the board, “We could really use a teacher instead of some piece of electronics.”
But even those pieces of electronics had been cut from the budget and board ultimately voted 4-1 in April to cut the two jobs. Only Dan Creedon voted to keep the teachers.
“Is anything that we’re doing here having an impact?” one student asked during the board’s lengthy discussion of the cuts.
“Of course it is,” Superintendent Michael Comanda said.
When Mr. Comanda explained the realities of the budget, the same students who challenged him about the decision actually applauded.
Greenport this year lacked the money in its fund balance to offer buyouts to teachers who were willing to takeearly retirement. Money was available only for those who had announced their intention to retire much earlier.
The board had to direct money to critical physical plant problems, such as $16,000 to repair broken bleachers at the ballfield. This year, other districts were maintaining flat budgets or raising spending by 1 or 2 percent while Greenport had to ask its taxpayers for a 4.5 percent hike in spending. And board members knew they were facing an undetermined amount of bonding to pay for major repairs, including replacement of the school’s roof and boilers.
Adding an estimated $140,000 to the budget to keep the two teachers was an expense the board members thought at the time they couldn’t bear.
But in June, when the state program of retirement incentives was announced, the district learned it could offer packages without committing more local money until March 2012, the superintendent said. Even then, the district will be able to spread out its payments to cover the retirements over a five-year period, he said.
That opened the floodgate for other teachers to take a retirement package now and for the two younger teachers to return to the school.
“I’m very happy and pleased they were able to be returned to the Greenport family,” Mr. Comanda said.
“I am really happy that Greenport didn’t have to lose staff due to budget cuts,” said Sara Maaiki, one of the students who had made the plea in April to save the two teachers’ jobs. “I can’t even express how grateful Greenport students are that Mr. Conti and Mr. Gulluscio will continue to be in our halls.”
At the same time, Ms. Maaiki said she was sad to hear about the retirements of other longtime district teachers.
“We wish all the retiring teachers the best, and are glad that the board was willing to find a compromise with the students in the end,” she said.
NEW BOARD PRESIDENT
Tina Volinski was elected to replace Heather Wolf as president of the Greenport Board of Education and Lisa Murray was elected vice president at the July 7 meeting. Ms. Volinski and Ms. Wolf were both re-elected to the board in May for second three-year terms. Ms. Murray was elected to a three-year term on the board in May 2009.