The Greenport Board of Education has asked the State Education Department for a ruling on whether the Oysterponds School District acted legally last month in rescinding one year of a three-year contract and two years of a contract extension.
Greenport Board of Education members and Superintendent Michael Comanda have refused to say were considering that step but Oysterponds Superintendent Stuart Rachlin confirmed in a telephone interview that he had been alerted of the move.
Greenport’s request is in line with former Greenport Board of Education president Gary Charters’ urging at the board’s Sept. 15 meeting that the district appeal Oysterponds’ rolling back of the contract.
The original three-year contract would have expired in 2012 and a two-year extension approved by a lame duck board in June carried the contract through to June 2014.
But three new Oysterponds board members, who took office in July, along with Kathy Syron, who was elected in 2008, supported the rollback in August. Only former board president Walter Strohmeyer voted against five resolutions that dealt with the issue. Two other board members — Linda Goldsmith and Krista de Kerillis — were absent from the Oysterponds August meeting.
The action came after new Oysterponds board president Deborah Dumont told members she had legal opinions indicating that the previous board couldn’t sign more than a two-year contract with Greenport without submitting it to a voter referendum.
That was contrary to a decision Oysterponds had received from Suzanne Spear at the State Education Department in October 2009, maintaining that no referendum was necessary. She said that it wasn’t an initial contract with Greenport and, therefore, didn’t require a referendum.
That decision prompted the board to cancel its planned Oct. 14, 2009, vote.
“To me, that’s a binding agreement,” Mr. Charters said of the contract at the Sept. 15 Greenport Board of Education meeting. “I would be looking for a legal opinion on the withdrawal of the contract,” he said.
If the most recent Oysterponds action stands, the contract with Greenport would expire at the end of the current school year in June 2011. The Oysterponds board would have to identify a receiving school by April 1, 2011, and enter into negotiations with that district on a new contract.
Mr. Charters said he was disappointed in Oysterponds Superintendent Stuart Rachlin, who once worked in Greenport, for not fighting to retain the contract agreement that locked the district into an agreement through 2014.
Dr. Rachlin declined to comment.
A parent of a Greenport first-grader appealed to board members to add a third first-grade class this year because the two classes are very crowded.
Laura Hoch presented a letter signed by the parents of several first-graders arguing that even with three teachers in the room, having 26 children in a class denied them the individual attention they need at this critical juncture in their education.
“We have great teachers and this is a great school, but these are the years when you need small classes,” she said, referring to grades K-4.
Ms. Hoch said that while she didn’t have time to get all the parents to sign the letter to the board, she was confident she was speaking for the majority. She pointed out that large classes in first grade mean that the condition would continue through the all the elementary school years of those students.
“Nobody is saying it isn’t going to work, but there are concerns,” Ms. Hoch said.
“It’s a work in progress,” board president Tina Volinski responded.
When the district was budgeting last spring, Mr. Comanda recommended that board members limit first grade to two classes, expressing confidence that with teachers and teachers aides, as well as reading and other specialists, interacting with them, the students would be well served. He reiterated that in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. There are 26 students in one class and 25 in the other, he said.
PAYING the piper
Board members formally approved a resolution to increase the expenditures listed in last year’s school budget in line with an auditor’s recommendation that the budget must account for payments due to teachers who retired during that year, even though those payments won’t be made to two of them until 2011 and to a third in 2012.
The unanticipated retirements resulted in expenses totaling $174,122 and, in a bookkeeping move, the board last week allocated the money from the district’s accrued liability reserve fund. While it has no immediate effect on taxes, the fund will eventually have to be replenished and that could affect future taxes, Mr. Comanda said.
GET READY FOR INCREASES
District clerk Diana Duell warned board members last week that increases can be expected in health insurance premiums and premiums for a stop-gap policy that protects the self-insured district from catastrophic losses. Ms. Duell is still awaiting figures from the insurers, but told the board because the district has incurred heavy burdens for insurance payments in the last two years, it would be difficult to negotiate lower rates with new insurance companies.
New elementary school principal Joseph Tsaveras told the board he’s starting a reading program that encourages parents to commit to spending 15 minutes a day reading with their children.
He’s also initiating a “24-7 Let’s Go” program to help children choose healthy activities and foods. Each child will be encouraged to make seven healthy choices each day, he said.
An effort to start an early morning program for elementary school students whose parents must drop them off before the building opens failed to get off the ground last week. Only a few parents indicated interest, Mr. Comanda said. He was exploring other possibilities with former elementary school principal Paul Read, he said.
Those who haven’t yet found their way to the school’s website — www.greenport,k12,ny.us — will find that it has undergone a major transformation in appearance and functionality.