Greenport School’s ban on tennis court use continues

Community residents will continue to be barred from using tennis courts and other facilities at Greenport School during the school day as a committee ponders the policy.

Board of Education members agreed at their Dec. 15 meeting to kick the matter to the district’s SAVE committee for a recommendation. The committee, formed under the guidelines of the federal Safe Schools Against Violence in Education program, will look at the policy as a student safety issue, according to Superintendent Michael Comanda, who suggested that the SAVE committee consider the matter.

Public use of the school athletic facilities became an issue in November when several residents complained about being banned from the tennis courts in line with a policy that had not been enforced before.

Former school board member Diane Peterson told the board at the meeting she considered the district’s primary responsibility was “to keep students safe” and asked the board not to allow the tennis courts or other facilities to be used by the public during school hours.

Mr. Comanda said he had polled educators in Suffolk County and around the state. Of 21 Suffolk County districts that responded to his inquiry, only one had a campus totally open to the public. However, many upstate schools do allow public use of school facilities during the day, he said.

“I thought that was interesting regionally,” Mr. Comanda said.

He also noted he had received a petition signed by Civil Service Employees Association members encouraging the district to enforce the policy banning public use of the campus during the school day. He said he’d received similar sentiments in a letter from a parent.

According to Mr. Comanda, there will be no discussion of cooperation on any programs between the Greenport and Oysterponds school districts until the state commissioner of education makes a ruling whether Oysterponds acted legally this summer in rolling back its contract agreement with Greenport.

The two districts had an original three-year agreement that was to run through June 2012 for Greenport to educate Oysterponds junior and senior high school students. A previous Oysterponds board, nearing the end of its term, extended that contract to June 2014.

But in July, three new board members took office in Oysterponds and voted 4-3 to cut back the two additional years and lop a year from the original contract. That means the contract with Greenport effectively will end in June 2011.

Greenport appealed the action and both districts have filed briefs with the state and await a decision from Albany.
In the interim, Greenport won’t discuss any contracts with Oysterponds, Mr. Comanda said.

Just the night before, Oysterponds Board of Education member Thom Gray reported that Greenport had no interest in his proposal Greenport send students into a multi-age classroom that Oysterponds would start; Oysterponds parents wanting a traditional single-grade classroom could send their children to be educated in Greenport, under his plan. He said Mr. Comanda had told him he was happy with Greenport’s current elementary school program and had no interest in exploring multi-age classrooms.

Mr. Comanda told The Suffolk Times he thought his conversation with Mr. Gray had been private, but reiterated that he wouldn’t enter into any discussion with Oysterponds about any new contracts until he had a resolution of the secondary school contract issue.

“The news isn’t great,” Mr. Comanda told board members about state aid for both the current school year and next year. He didn’t have exact numbers yet, but word was that at least 5 percent of anticipated state funds for the current school year won’t be forthcoming and districts can expect a 5 to 10 percent cutback in state aid for the 2011-12 school year, Mr. Comanda said.

That will mean not only careful budgeting for the next school year, but examining planned spending for the current year and making cuts of about $50,000 this year, he said.

He said he was examining the budget to see what costs have to be encumbered, such as salary and benefit payments, and where spending could be reduced in an already tight budget, he told school board members.

The parent of a first-grader appealed to board members to add an extra division because the two existing first-grade classes have 25 and 26 students each. The parent, who asked that her name not be used, said she was considering leaving Greenport so her child could go to school in a district with fewer students.

“I don’t want to move,” she said, but children are jammed into a small space and teachers in the two classes are challenged trying to pay enough attention to each child’s needs. Even with the help of an aide, students may not get a good foundation for future learning, she said.

Mr. Comanda said there’s no money to create another first-grade class this year. But he asked the parent to bring the issue up during budget hearings, due to begin in Greenport March 9.

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