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New Suffolk teacher resigns; teaching assistant to be laid off

New Suffolk teacher Martha Kennelly, whose job was cut in 2015 and who was reinstated last August, will resign from the district effective July 1. 

Robert Cohen, the school district’s attorney, made the announcement at Tuesday’s special Board of Education meeting to discuss the proposed 2018-19 budget.

“I am pleased to report that all disputes between the district and Ms. Kennelly have been resolved amicably,” Mr. Cohen said. “Ms. Kennelly put the needs of the district before her own. Pursuant to this amicable agreement, Ms. Kennelly’s resignation will be in effect as of July 1. On behalf of the board and myself, we wish her the very best in her future pursuits.”

Under the agreement, the district will take out a bond for $43,831 annually over 10 years to cover back pay Ms. Kennelly is owed, as well as other costs, including interest, retirement, Social Security and reimbursement for medical insurance, board president Tony Dill said.

Additionally, there is a line item in the proposed 2017-18 budget for $37,375 in termination fees.

Ms. Kennelly declined to comment following the meeting.

The agreement allowed the board to cancel a public vote on whether to tuition New Suffolk’s elementary students to Southold beginning this fall.

The board had come to that option because it owed Ms. Kennelly $300,000 in back pay, as well as an annual salary of $119,485 due to the New York State Department of Education’s August ruling. She worked off site developing curriculum this school year.

The district will also lay off one teaching assistant, reducing the elementary staff to two full-time teachers, one teaching assistant and five part-time specialty teachers, Mr. Dill said.

The board presented a $962,581 budget for next school year, which is over $150,000 below the current year’s budget. The budget is about $58, 500 under New Suffolk’s tax levy cap.

Another large savings came in the form of special education, which decreased by nearly $95,000 compared to this year. Some tuitioned students’ individualized education programs were changed for the upcoming school year, saving New Suffolk in special education costs.

This answer didn’t seem to satisfy some audience members, who questioned where the money to fund this year’s budget would come from and wanted to know more about the district’s settlement with Ms. Kennelly.

“We were told that there were three options going forward,” said Arlene Castellano, noting that two of those options substantially increased taxes. The third was to tuition out the elementary students.

“Can you explain to me now how we are not in financial straits today, when we were in the past when these three options were presented to us?” she asked. “We were basically told if the school stayed open we would have a huge increase in our taxes.”

Mr. Dill said most of the money came from the reduction in special education costs, a situation the district wasn’t aware of in January when the three options were proposed.

Ms. Castellano said his response didn’t answer her question, with which other attendees agreed, and asked that the board share more about the agreement with Ms. Kennelly. The board declined to elaborate further due to a confidentiality clause written into the agreement.

“I think we have a right to know,” Ms. Castellano said. “I hate to think this was possible and could have all been solved. And this community and children and parents were put through this and now it’s all fine? Why did we all have to go through this?”

The board also announced Tuesday that no one had put in to run for a seat on the Board of Education and therefore no names will appear on the ballot. Jeanette Cooper’s term, which she completed for her husband, Jason, after he died unexpectedly last June, is up this year.

Because no names are on the ballot, voters will have to write in candidates, Mr. Cohen said, and the one who receives the most write-in votes will fill the seat for a three year term.

The next school board meeting is set for May 8 at 7 p.m.. The budget vote is Tuesday, May 15, from 3 to 9 p.m.

Caption: Martha Kennelly, at right, at a meeting earlier this year. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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