March 18, 2000
Board Defies Public To Vote Down Bond Again. Holds Emergency Bond Meeting.
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
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
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
Renken: No. Just looking at the whole
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.