School merger story was off the mark

Members of the Southold school board were quite surprised by the front-page headline “Merger Talk Hits Dead End” of the June 3 edition of The Suffolk Times. A quick recounting of the meeting to which the article refers certainly shows a very different picture.

This meeting included a slide show of the 10th-grade trip to Europe where they experienced the world they learn about in school, a slide show of student artwork, granting of tenure of several staff members, personnel changes and many other items of business.

First, the headline suggests the subject of consolidating school districts was actually discussed and dismissed by the school board. This simply was not done. There were no merger talks at all during this meeting. Additionally, board president Judi Fouchet was given credit for many of the quotes within the article, lending the appearance of speaking on behalf of the board. In fact, the comments quoted in the article were made by Paulette Ofrias.

Furthermore, these comments were made in what is termed the “board member commentary.” At the very end of the meeting board members freely speak their minds about anything related to the issues at hand or the school in general. Individual board members choose what they wish to speak about during this commentary. In no way does anything said become the official word of the board, regardless of the speaker or the issue.

Ms. Ofrias chose that evening to respectfully address comments made by Don Wagner regarding his single-handed, continued push for consolidation of North Fork districts. Mr. Wagner speaks to this issue at each and every board meeting. Ms. Ofrias simply chose this meeting to respond with her individual thoughts. It is important to note the remaining board members have no problems with the comments Ms. Ofrias chose to make or the way they were made.

The issue and problem is with the fact that these comments were not credited to her and the front-page headline suggests this was more than comments made near the end of the meeting.

So where does this put the issue of consolidation? In the fall of 2009, the Southold School District embarked on an effort to survey the community about this and several other school-related issues. The board decided to wait for the final responses from this survey before discussing the issue of a consolidation study. To date, David Gamberg, our district superintendent, and his administrative staff of one have compiled and reported on responses from district parents.

The responses of non-parental community members will be forthcoming during the summer months. The board will then formally discuss the results as they relate to the issue of consolidation. At that time, it would be appropriate for The Suffolk Times to create a more accurate headline and article for the community to read.

In the meantime, our administration and board will continue to work with our neighbors to the east and west to find ways to create educational opportunity and/or reduce expenses associated with education. This is done through many venues, one of which is the ad-hoc group North Fork United Schools. These discussions will continue regardless of the consolidation issue.

Southold’s school board members strive to be open-minded and thorough in their approach to providing a valuable education to the students of our district while maintaining a financially responsible budget and reserve position.

Community members are welcome and encouraged to attend meetings and communicate concerns, thoughts and ideas they have regarding the district’s continued success.

The Southold school board graciously accepts the apology from the editorial staff of The Suffolk Times for the inaccuracies reported in this article and looks forward to working with the paper when we move forward to discuss the subject of a consolidation study and the many other issues we must tackle in the years to come.

Ms. Fouchet is president of the Southold Board of Education and is writing on the board’s behalf.