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March 18, 2000

School Board Defies Public To Vote Down Bond Again. Holds Emergency Bond Meeting. No Effort Made To Notify Public Or Media.

By Stewart Lilker

On Friday morning, March 17th at 10:30 a.m., the Freeport Board of Education held an emergency meeting, which they claimed was for the purpose of discussing "a particular matter of real estate." It actually was about the recently defeated school bond. The notice was sent out by the district clerk sometime Thursday afternoon. FreeportNYNews (FNYN) has learned that the official district newspaper, the Leader, as well as Newsday were not notified of this urgent "bond" meeting. The district clerk, Mary Bediako, again ignored the legal requirements of notification, knowing that Director of the Committee On Open Government, Mr. Robert Freeman, has repeatedly stated that the requirements of notification can be met "by telephoning local news media." As a consequence, the emergency meeting was attended by only six members of the public and FNYN. All the Board members were present except for John Muscara. Superintendent Moffett remained silent throughout the public portion of the bond meeting. Asst. Superintendents Ciaglia and Bediako were in attendance. Assistant Superintendent of Business Kishore Kuncham, as usual, spoke so quietly that it was almost impossible to hear him. Before the meeting began, Board VP Renken was going through the bond public relations material that had been previously sent out by the Board to the Community. When Mr. Kuncham entered the meeting, he came in with what appeared to be about ten packets of information. When he saw the public was in attendance, he turned the material upside down before placing it on the table. Board President Grover arrived at 10:45 and immediately moved the meeting into executive session for what he claimed was a "particular matter of real-estate."

About forty five minutes later the Board reconvened into open session. Without any discussion by the Board,  Grover immediately announced that the Board was going to put the Bond resolution back up to the people at the same time as the budget vote in May. He claimed that the Board had gotten the message "loud and clear" from the district residents, further stating that "we have an obligation to build whether they want it or not." Grover asked Kuncham what could be cut from the bond.

Kuncham said, "Everything was absolutely needed. "We cannot compromise on the issues." Kuncham said that they were going to cut five million dollars from the bond. He explained they would cut the elevators and maintenance items, which would be put back into the operating and capital budgets over the next three years.

Grover repeated that "space is our number one requirement." He continued, "If the bond issue does not get passed this board has the responsibility to build. They [the residents] can build those buildings from the capital budget over the next three years or they can spend it over a twenty year period in the bond issue. Itís not to put a gun to anybodyís head, but our back is against the wall. We have no choice in this matter. If the bond is not passed, that budget has got to go up substantially and thatís the way the proposition will be put out. The bond and the budget will be put up on the same date." Grover claimed that if the bond failed again, that the high school would more than likely go into split session. He further claimed that the actual cost of building the building and creating the space, would be the same. Without any explanation and contrary to the Board's practice of consistently ignoring the publicís requests to open the polls before people go to work, rather than at twelve in the afternoon, Grover said, "We will be opening the polls from six am to 9 p.m." Grover said, "We will listen to anything that anybody has to say. We got a crystal clear message, absolutely." When he was asked to convene a special Board meeting so that the Board could listen to the people and learn why they voted the bond down, he said it wasnít necessary. He said, "Nobody wins if we donít pass the bond. Weíre going to hike the tax rate and itís going to get beyond belief."

Debbie McQuillin, the former PTA counsel president asked, "If the community doesnít support the bond, can you go ahead and do the classrooms anyway?" Grover responded, "We cannot responsibly put 16 million dollars into building an elementary school in one year. You will end up with portables. Maybe a whole portable program down on Raynor field. That would cost maybe five to seven million dollars and you would pay it in one year and we would have to do it again the following year and the year after that. Youíre talking about tax increases back into the double digits. We have to be out of New Visions in two years."

George Dunn asked why we werenít buying the New Visions Public School. Grover stated that, "There have been absolute discussions with them and the possibility of purchase. We could not come to an arrangement with the Diocese that would meet the needs of the district." Grover claimed that the Diocese was in negotiation with someone else, a computer school, to buy the building for six million dollars." Grover claimed that the Diocese was not interested in selling the parking lot. Grover ignored the fact that the district uses the school now and doesnít have exclusive use of the parking lot. Grover claimed that the Diocese would "structure the deal to sell the school as a donation,." somehow benefiting the new buyer and making it impossible for the district to compete for the purchase. Mr. Dunn said, "There could be discussions. Thirty percent of that building is not occupied by students." Kuncham replied, "If we bought the building it would cost another three or four million dollars in renovations." Board VP Renken said, "The price would be three and a half million plus three and a half million for renovations."

Then the following exchange ensued:

FNYN: How much is the price of the building, three and a half or six million?

Grover: They wanted six million.

Renken: Six million.

FNYN: How did the three and a half become six million?

Renken: Well, youíre going to add three and a half million in renovations.

Grover: They didnít agree to three and a half million. Their number is six million.

FNYN: But you just said three and a half million.

Renken: No. Just looking at the whole thing.

Grover: Iím laying the cards on the table. We did try and negotiate to try and buy that piece of property. The negotiations are pretty much one sided with the Diocese. We couldnít come to an arrangement. They have a buyer in the wings. They have a deal they are negotiating right now. Our lease is up in two years. They have two years to negotiate.

Mr. Dunn again tried to urge the Board to negotiate with the Diocese. Kuncham explained that the state would not grant a variance for the school, never explaining why the state allowed the district to operate the school there for the past few years. Frustrated, Mr. Dunn then gave it up.

When your reporter said, "Youíre bringing back the same plan." Grover responded, "Yes, basically the same plan." Your reporter, also a resident, responded, "You want two bites at the same apple. You canít threaten people and tell them, do it our way or your taxes are going to go up. I think youíre really doing a disservice to the people that need the classroom space the most and thatís people that are four foot tall. If you come back with the same plan and you call it something else, donít be disappointed if that goes down with the budget."

Board President Grover claimed that he had no idea how much the district has spent so far in presenting and preparing for the bond and again refused to have the entire Board meet with the district residents to get their input. Board member Ellerbe then claimed that, "A lot of misinformation was put out there and was misleading the people." Ellerbe didnít not explain whether or not it was the Boardís or othersí information that was misleading. Ellerbeís comment appeared to touch a nerve in the co-president of the High School PTA, Stephanie Cieslik. After she began her extemporaneous presentation to the Board, you could have heard a pin drop:

I need to say this. You all sit here. Iíll tell you something Dante [Board President Grover], your kids donít go to this school. Iím this close to pulling my daughter out and I have loved the Freeport school system and you know that. When your wife was pulling your children out, I said donít do it. Itís a great place to learn. Not any more. Not when my daughter canít sit in the cafeteria and be safe because there are five fights going on. Not when kids have to walk out the back door of the school and get hit by a UPS truck. Not when they have to walk through an active driveway and no one cares. When girls get their heads stuffed in toilets bowls. When teachers get beaten up. How do you think Stu Napier [a teacher] felt getting beaten up? When teachers are getting thrown up against the wall or the blackboard. You canít educate children in an atmosphere like that. And people tell you what happens at open meetings and you donít listen to them. The people have told you. Youíre not going to listen to us. Weíre not going to listen to you. You guys better wake up. Start doing something now, not just for the Bond, but for the kids.

Shortly after Ms. Cieslikís statement, the meeting was adjourned.



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