BOARD NOTES - North Shore School Board Regular Meeting, November 21, 2013 - SUPERINTENDENT REPORTS BRIGHTER FISCAL OUTLOOK AS BUDGET SEASON NEARS - CAPS AND GOWNS - BOND PRESENTATION - WORLD LANGUAGES DISCUSSION; RESIDENTS EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR ELEMENTARY PROGRAM - BOARD UNANIMOUSLY PASSES RESOLUTION CALLING FOR REFORM OF STATE TESTING POLICIES
ATTENDANCE: Board President Herman Berliner, Vice President Tom Knierim, Trustee Amy Beyer, Trustee Sara Jones, Trustee Toni Labbate, Trustee Michael Nightingale, Trustee Marianne Russo, Superintendent Ed Melnick, Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi, District Clerk Betty Ciampi
STUDENT RECOGNITION –
North Shore Senior Adriana Rubertone who was selected to participate in the American Legion’s Girls State Convention - an annual leadership program for young women, was called before the board by Dr. Melnick. He explained to the board and audience that Ms. Rubertone, after learning that the boy’s program featured high profile guest speakers while the girls program did not, and that the boy’s program was generally viewed as more prestigious than the girl’s, sent out letters to three prominent women inviting them to speak at the convention. Two declined, but the third, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, accepted the invitation. Senator Gillibrand said after her speech at the convention that she was impressed with Ms. Rubertone’s boldness and determination and believed that it ought to be rewarded. Dr. Melnick said, “We are recognizing Adriana for not sitting back accepting the inequity, but for taking bold action and doing something about it and making real change for the young women in our state.”
Members of the Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Teams were called before the board and audience and recognized for having won the Nassau County Cross-Country Championships this past season. With regard to the Men’s team, Dr. Melnick said that in addition to winning the county championship in their class, this was the third consecutive year they had won the division; six runners were named all division; four all-conference; and three all-county. The team has had only one loss in the past three seasons. With regard to the Women’s team, Dr. Melnick said that this was the fifth consecutive year that the woman’s team won the over-all county championship, and as a result qualified for the New York State Championship meet. The team has won 76 consecutive league competitions with no losses. .
APPROVAL OF MINUTES
REPORT OF THE SUPERINTENDENT.
Dr. Melnick first commented on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent comment that criticism of the Common Core was coming from white suburban moms coming to the realization that their schools are not as good and that their children are not as brilliant as they thought they were. Dr. Melnick said he disagreed with the Secretary’s assessment, and that the criticism is more about the way the standards were rolled out and about the testing that accompany the standards. He also said that he believed that parts of the Common Core are not developmentally appropriate. He said the issue was not about the rigor of the standards.
Dr. Melnick then reported that the district has gotten some very favorable news regarding the fiscal outlook for the 2014-15 budget, and the district’s finances overall. According to the external auditor, he said, the district is in strong financial shape. In addition, the District’s contribution to the teacher’s retirement fund will be increasing from 16.25% of payroll to 17.25 – 17.75% of payroll. While the contribution will be increasing, it is significantly lower than the 22 – 23% that the Empire Center for New York State Policy had been predicting, and on which the district had based earlier forecasts. Health Insurance premiums, Dr. Melnick stated, also would be lower than expected. With regard to the tax burden shift resulting from the ramp down at the Glenwood Landing Plant, Dr. Melnick stated that the Nassau County Assessor’s office had stated to him and to Sea Cliff Mayor Bruce Kennedy that under state law at this time, the shift from one tax class (in this case a utility) to the other classes (residential, coops/condos and businesses) the shift cannot be more than 1% per year which would spread out the shift over a 20 year period. And unless state law changes, the District is hopeful that that will be the case.
REPORT OF THE SGO REPRESENTATIVE – Board Rep. Adriana Rubertone expressed concerns to the board that when senior girls took graduation photos earlier this fall they were required to wear white gowns. However they will be wearing maroon at graduation. She submitted a petition requesting that students be given the option to wear white gowns at graduation. Dr. Melnick asked Ms. Rubertone if she had taken this up with the building administration. She said that she had, and was told it was a Board matter. Dr. Melnick said that last year, seniors were asked to come up with alternatives to the board decision that all seniors wear maroon. The seniors, he said, did not come back with alternatives. Dr. Melnick recommended to the board that this year that individual students, both male and female, be given a choice of what color gown he or she would like to wear. The board agreed to Dr. Melnick's request.
BOND PRESENTATION- John Hall, Director of Buildings and Grounds, presented the $19.6 million bond proposal that will be put up for a vote on December 3. He explained the projects that would be undertaken at Glen Head, Glenwood Landing, Sea Cliff, the Middle School and High School, and gave a PowerPoint presentation (that has been on the District website since late October) showing the areas that would be repaired or replaced. Click here to view Mr. Hall’s PowerPoint presentation. After Mr. Hall spoke, he took questions from the audience.
Jerry Romano of Sea Cliff said that he believed many of these projects could have been avoided with regular maintenance, and asked if that was true. Mr. Hall replied that the district has been doing repair work – pointing and replacing bricks, which he said, could be seen on the slides. The roofs being replaced, he said, are beyond their warranties and the electrical panels that are being replaced are full after years of adding outlets. The water service to Glen Head School began leaking in 2012 he continued. He said that Buildings and Grounds had not been ignoring the issues. Mr. Romano asked, “how long is the money being borrowed for?” Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi replied, “15 years.” Mr. Romano explained that he owns a brick home and did not think the work would last for 15 years. With regard to the railing being placed on the roof of Sea Cliff School, Mr. Romano questioned whether it was necessary. President Herman Berliner said it was a safety issue for workers.
Tom Murphy, Sea Cliff, asked if the board still maintains a five-year plan with regard to maintenance and capital improvements. He continued that when the board has looked to reduce expenses, it is typically maintenance that is taken out of the budget. He asked whether the district would see maintenance savings over the next five years with these projects being done now with a bond at a low interest rate, rather than doing them on an emergency basis. Dr. Melnick explained that the state requires the district to keep a Building Conditions Survey that outlines what will need to be done over a period of five years, and that survey is used as a planning document. In addition, annual visual inspections are conducted. Health and safety concerns are priorities in considering what work needs to be done. He said that past boards had put $500,000 per year towards capital improvements but that number has been reduced to $250-$300,000 in recent years. He explained that with the tax levy limit (which he said would be under 2% this year), the district would have to cover capital improvement costs taking money from other areas in the budget. Mr. Hall added that the economies of scale allow the district to realize more savings with larger projects. Mr. Murphy then said that by addressing projects now, that are expected to be needed to be done in the next couple of the years, could the district see savings in future budgets. Mr. Hall replied yes.
Anthony Losquadro, Sea Cliff, said that he had walked around and inspected some of the buildings, and that he believed some of the things needed to be done, but that there “is a lot in the bond proposal that is overkill.” He said he manages large buildings and that “it doesn’t take millions of dollars to fix a crack here and crack there. “ He questioned replacing asbestos floor tile and the cost of retaining walls at Sea Cliff and Glenwood playgrounds. Mr. Hall replied that it is not possible to predict the cost exactly and that the estimates take into account unforeseen conditions during the work. He cited as an example masonry work at Glenwood which revealed a need to replace a deteriorated metal lintel, that could not be seen with a visual inspection. Dr. Melnick stated that the district could only spend on those projects that were specifically identified in the bond proposal. And if the more was budgeted than was needed, the district would borrow less. Mr. Losquadro stated that there were supplemental projects in the bond proposal. Dr. Melnick stated that the proposal being put forward went through a committee made up of community members, and that the original proposal was for $110 million and was brought down to $19.6 million. He said that there were about $600,000 worth of projects that the district needs to do anyway that are included in the proposal as contingency projects. They are projects that would be done if the estimates for the other projects come in under $19.6 million. Mr. Losquadro questioned the work on the Sea Cliff roof, saying that it is only 13 years old. Mr. Hall said that the warranty had expired for a portion of the roof and that is the work that would be done first, and that the work on the roof on the new addition will be held off until after that warranty expires in 2017.
Roger Friedman of Sea Cliff stated that it would be unwise to wait for the asbestos tile to create a health risk before replacing it. He added that cracks in walls can’t be re-pointed and that there comes a point when the work needs to be done.
John Hall agreed with the point about the floor tiles, saying that the district, by replacing them, was trying to avoid emergency abatements.
Deb McDermott of Sea Cliff asked what would be the consequences of not passing the bond at this time.
Dr. Melnick replied that a different bond could be put up at another time or that the projects would have to be done through the budget which would put strains on it. He said that the budget can increase by $2,000,000 if that is what is required to do a particular project, or that that money could be shifted from educational programs.
Eileen Stanton of Glen Head asked for clarification of what “needs” to be done and what the district “wants” done. Mr. Hall stated that the projects in the bond are what need to be done. Dr. Melnick added that there are projects the district would like to do – like a high school multi-purpose room and a theater for the middle school. However, the district has chosen to limit the projects to what must be done and that we can either put the projects into a bond or put them into the budget. Dr. Berliner added that the district was committed to getting the best value out of these expenditures. He encouraged the audience to get out and vote whatever their opinions were about the bond.
Christine Hughes of Sea Cliff asked what the impact of the bond not passing would be on classrooms. Dr. Melnick replied that the money for the projects would have to come from other areas of the budget or the district could try to break the tax cap.
Larry Ruisi of Glen Head asked, “Aren’t capital expenditures excluded from the cap?” Dr. Melnick replied that they were not exluded in the year that they are budgeted but in the following year's budget.
Roger Friedman of Sea Cliff asked if the bond will increase residents’ taxes.
Dr. Melnick replied that with the new borrowing, the district’s debt service would continue to decline, but at a slower rate than it currently is.
Denise Reiner of Old Brookville asked if the bond were not passed, what projects would have to go into the next budget. Dr. Melnick replied that about $4 million worth – the re-pointing, the roofs, and the electrical work.
DISCUSSION – WORLD LANGUAGES
Dr. Melnick started the discussion with an overview of the current World Languages program in the elementary school. He said that in grades k-2 students take Mandarin; grades 3-5, Mandarin or Spanish; and then when current fifth graders move into 7th grade the options open up to French, Italian, Latin, Mandarin, and Spanish. Dr. Melnick then explained the results of a survey of elementary school parents (K-5) regarding the World Languages program. He said that there were 300 respondents – 44% responded with regard to Spanish language instruction and the remainder with regard to Mandarin instruction. He said that in grades 3-5 more students take Spanish than Mandarin. There were roughly an equal number of responses from the three elementary schools. He said that 75% strongly agree or agree that their children talk about foreign language class at home; 81% said their children have a positive view of learning another language; 82% believe that their children feel successful in the program; 85% said that their children like the program; 61% said that their children speak the language they’re learning at school in the home; 50% of parents use the newsletter that is sent home; 79-80% said they believe their children will benefit from the program; more than 80% support continuing the program; 88% said their children are excited about learning a foreign language; 72-73% said they felt the program was highly successful.
Dr. Melnick continued that in the general comments section there were many more positive comments than negative ones. The negative included concerns about stress and pressures over “how much kids have to learn” in school in general; scheduling with regard to arts and music; and questions about whether the district was devoting enough time to language instruction in grades 3-5 where students receive instruction once every sixth day. He said the response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, and having sat in these classes he said he understands why.
Dr. Melnick gave the following enrollment figures for the program – K-2 - 349 students taking Mandarin; 3-5 - 128 taking Mandarin and 403 taking Spanish. He said he expected there to be more balance as the younger kids come up into the higher elementary grades.
Dr. Melnick stated that next year the following changes would be made with regard to world languages and art instruction:
In grades 3-5, a second day of instruction would be added so that students would meet with their Mandarin or Spanish teacher for a period two out of every six days (rather than the current one day) and that the language would be removed out of the specials schedule and put into the regular schedule. This opens up a period in the specials’ schedule for additional arts instruction. He said that during the language instruction, teachers would now be able to meet with each other and the principal for the purpose of team planning.
Dr. Melnick said that this would require no additional staffing for next year. For full implementation of the program over the next five years, he stated that an additional .4 Spanish position and an additional .6 Mandarin position would needed.
Dr. Melnick said it was too soon to say what would happen in the 7th grade program in two years when today’s 5th graders moved into that grade. He said only 11 students are currently enrolled in 6th grade Latin, but the district typically requires a minimum of 15 unless it is a higher level course
During the Discussion, Trustee Russo said that in future surveys she would like to see the classroom teachers and the specials teachers to be included in order to get their feedback. In particular she wanted to hear the teacher’s views on the impact of Mandarin instruction. She wanted to know if it helped with numeracy and if there was “cross-over into the curriculum.”
Dr. Melnick said that there was a poll of k-1 teachers at the end of last year that was included in the report. He said he has “heard two complaints – not about the language” – but “concerns about the art schedule and that the classes were only 35 minutes and not 40.”
He said that the Spanish and Mandarin teachers worked this past summer with the curriculum maps and with Mr. Cheblicki to tie in their instruction so that it parallels what is being taught in the regular classroom.
Trustee Russo asked about the Music and Arts push-in and whether those teachers were finding it satisfactory. She continued that "when we are talking about Mandarin or IB, we are only getting a slice of the pie,” She said that there are “costs and opportunity costs.” If we keep the foreign language program in the elementary schools "are we going to have to cut elsewhere such as in theater or are we going to have to cut sports?" she asked.
Dr. Melnick replied that the elementary program requires 2.6 salaries that are on the lower end since they are newer teachers; the cost would be the same whether it was one language or two languages; that supplies for the program cost about $6,000 per year; and that one additional position would be added at a later time as he stated earlier. He said that declining enrollment enabled the district to implement the program. The district cut 2.6 positions district wide, and added 2.6 for the elementary languages program.
Trustee Knierim said that teachers had problems with the pull-outs for the instrument instruction. He said that he was very happy that the additional period of art was being put back into the 6 day cycle.
Dr. Melnick said that the pull-outs had to do with the instrumental lessons in 3-5 grades and that with different instruments being pulled out at different times at different days, it interfered with the classroom teacher’s opportunity to engage in full class instruction and that there would be kids who would be behind because they missed what had happened in class. There still will be no pull-outs next year, but an additional arts period will be in the cycle for either art or music depending on how the cycle falls. He said that this year there were concerns about the implementation of the common core and how it was being rolled out, and that had an impact of the scheduling. He continued that teachers have expressed the desire to have more time to work collaboratively during the day. He said there currently is very little time in the day for that with only a lunch period and a 35 minute prep period. He said that he believes for every minute of classroom instruction there are 2-3 minutes of essential planning that go into that minute of instruction. The plan, he said, is to pull the language instruction out of the cycle, and those two periods a week would enable teachers during that time to plan and work together, meeting with instructional leaders, or take workshops.
Trustee Knierim continued that he has seen some research that says a more intensive language program is desirable. He said the problem with that is both the budgetary impact and the time impact. He asked Dr. Melnick, if he had the money, would he put more FLES into the schedule.
Dr. Melnick replied that it depended on how much money the board wanted to spend. An immersion program, of course, he said is the ideal. Twice every sixth day, he said, is the best we can do at this time with budgetary and time limitations. He added that the research shows that any exposure is better than no exposure.
Trustee Knierim said that he would “hate to see a program like this fail or be criticized” because not enough time is being devoted to it. He expressed concern that “half measures or a watered down program can sometimes be worse than no program at all.” He then said, considering the low enrollment in sixth grade Latin, what would happen if the district did away with Latin next year in the seventh grade, would it be possible to keep that instruction within the curriculum in some way. Dr. Melnick replied that one of the Latin teachers is dual certified in Italian and would be able to pick up a section in that language if necessary. He said the other Latin teacher does an amazing job with the “Word Power” course at the high school. He said such a course, if time in the teacher’s schedule could perhaps be done at the Middle School or even the elementary schools.
Trustee Labbate suggested that any poll of teachers should ask about how the lack of pull-out has affected instruction. She asked if 6th graders would continue to take foreign language every other day next year and if they would continue to take the language they took in fifth grade. Dr. Melnick replied “yes” to both questions.
Trustee Nightingale said that he is glad the district is looking at the scheduling. He questioned whether two days of instruction a week is going to produce fluency in Mandarin. He expressed concerns about a language program cutting into time for “quality education.” He said “you’re still going to have a six hour day and if you increase language or art you are ultimately going to lose quality education time.”
Dr. Melnick replied that it is “not just about minutes – it’s not quality instruction if kids are just doing skill and drill all day long.” He said, “It is important to remember that time in art, physical education, language or music is not time out of quality instruction –that is quality instruction – that is engaging the kids in critical thinking and problem solving.”
Trustee Nightingale said that he wants more art time and more quality education but said that “you have to look at what we’re getting as we give those things up. We get a haphazardly applied program to give up quality art time or education time - you have to look at that.”
Trustee Jones said that even without fluency there are significant cognitive gains to be realized from the study of another language. In addition, she said, students are enthusiastic about what they’re learning and parents are enthusiastic about that.
Trustee Beyer said that with increasing pressure of time and money, the district needs to be clear about its priorities. We must be preparing our students for an increasingly global society and that cultural exposure is very important – even if the student does not develop fluency. Trustee Beyer then brought up the elementary Latin program that had been discontinued two years ago. She said at the time the administration said that there would be efforts to incorporate Latin into regular instruction. She asked if this had been done. Dr. Melnick replied that it had not been done in a formal way.
Trustee Russo said that she is a big proponent of Latin – that it helps students with sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary. She said she would like to see that incorporated into the elementary school program. She said that low enrollment in sixth grade Latin might be due to the fact that Latin instruction was removed from the elementary school.
Trustee Russo then read a question from a parent who could not attend the meeting regarding the possibility of creating an honors foreign language program.
Dr. Melnick replied that the district had in the past tried a program called “honors by achievement” and that it did not work out very well.
Dr. Berliner said that as a country, we have not devoted as much as we should toward fluency in a second language. He said that we need to educate our children for a world economy and that we need to provide language support and work towards fluency.
Denise Reiner, Old Brookville, stated that she believed that fluency was an important objective, and that she believed it should be taught every other day at a minimum if that was the goal but was concerned about the impact that could have on other programs. She said perhaps what was needed was more time and asked about the possibilities that had been raised at an earlier meeting regarding extending the day for students and perhaps staggering the day for teachers.
Dr. Melnick replied that he did not think that more time was needed for common core, but that more time for promoting creativity and passion. He said that the current teacher’s contract expires in 2016 and that adjusting the teachers’ schedules would have to be done through the collective bargaining process.
Ms. Reiner said that there were no longer pull-outs for instrument instruction in elementary and middle schools and that the district should look into doing that in the high school as well.
Hannah Hunter of Sea Cliff said that her family moved to the district because of the offering of the world languages program in the elementary school. She suggested that Latin be offered in the elementary school, and also that an extensive world language program would be useful in preparing students for the sort of the thinking that is required in the IB Program.
Dr. Melnick replied that budget constraints would make it difficult to expand the Language program.
A Glen Head Resident said that she was very happy with what she heard about the foreign language program at this evenings meeting. She said she liked the idea of having it twice in the six day cycle, than exposure is very important, and that is was going to be incorporated into the wider curriculum.
Alison Loren said that she agrees that Latin should be in the elementary school program and that it should continue as a sixth grade offering. She said as a second grade teacher, she has found it amazing how much students love Latin.
Deb McDermott said that her concern is that there is not frequent enough foreign language instruction in the elementary grades and that the district should try to do more of it.
Pooja Veera, Glenwood Landing, said that she would like to see more foreign language enrichment opportunities after school. She said that early instruction is very important, and that early introduction allowed her to become fluent in three languages.
Trustee Labbate asked if there was still a Mandarin Club at Glen Head and the reply was “no”.
Dr. Melnick said a longer day of the same stuff is just a longer day. It is important to discuss how the time is being used.
Trustee Russo said it is important to look at the teacher-student contact time and not just the length of the day. Dr. Melnick stated that the elementary day is 6 hours and 15 minutes and that teachers have a 35 minute prep period in addition to lunch.
Trustee Nightingale said that when he was in school, Band was after school, and that that worked well. He said that having some programs after-school would be away of dealing with limited time.
Trustee Knierim asked what the costs would be of a longer day. Dr. Melnick replied that that information would be included in the contract study trustees receive in advance of contract negotiations.
Eileen Stanton of Glen Head said that she believed that the day was long enough and that some students, especially those who pick up the content quickly, could probably use a shorter day.
Larry Ruisi of Glen Head suggested that the district create a metric comparing the length of the school day in various districts.
A Glen Head resident complimented the Superintendent and Board on their handling of the cap and gown issue that was brought up during the Student Organization report at the beginning of the meeting.
DISCUSSION – TESTING RESOLUTION
At the start of the discussion, Trustee Amy Beyer suggested that the district counsel’s addition of the words “to the extent legally possible” be removed from the clause regarding test practice as it did not apply. Dr. Melnick stated he had spoken to District counsel about it and that it would be fine to remove it. Trustee Beyer also “questioned whether “the cart was being put before the horse” in adopting the resolution before the district’s white paper on state assessments and mission and vision statements had been updated by a recently formed committee.
Trustee Jones said that she believed that this was the appropriate order as the resolution would provide guidance to the committee.
Trustee Labatte agreed and in addition said that the resolution would put North Shore with the other districts that have made a statement against the State’s testing policies.
Trustee Russo added that the purpose of the Committee is to look at the White Paper and make it consistent with the resolution.
The resolution passed unanimously.
Tom Murphy, Sea Cliff, said that he appreciated the resolution and said that it may not be perfect, but is a fluid document that can change with time. He said it would give guidance to the North Shore Parent Action Committee (NSPAC) in its efforts.
Dr. Berliner said that he believes the issue comes down to local control.
Noah Blumenthal said that he is “thrilled with the resolution,” but said that it is the implementation of it that is most important. He said he read an article in Wired that highlighted examples of effective educational programs in Mexico and Finland and that what made them effective was their ability to unleash creativity and enthusiasm for learning. He said he believes the SWES program does that here - that it gives kids freedom. He said that he loves that his kids have so much enthusiasm for the world languages program. Mr. Blumenthal continued that he was concerned about micromanagement of teachers - that he heard from a staff member in one building that teachers are given daily calendars that they must adhere to each day. He said he hopes that that is not the case. Dr. Melnick said it should not be the case and he would look into it.
Rob Casella said that he read in Newsday that educator Diane Ravitch was encouraging districts to boycott the state mandated tests.
Dr. Melnick replied that Diane Ravitch had once been an architect and supporter of No Child Left Behind but changed her position on the issue when she saw how it was affecting education. He said he believed that boycotting the tests was not the solution, but that changing them was. He said he would like to see the time devoted to testing reduced, that they be given every other year, and that they not be used to evaluate teachers.
Amy Goldstein of Old Brookville asked if students in the early elementary years should have grades written on the in-class spelling and math tests they take and was wondering if that was unique to her child’s class or was that district practice. A teacher in the audience said that elementary students are taking the same tests. Dr. Melnick said it might vary from teacher to teacher how the student’s performance is indicated on the test paper.
Trustee Labbate said that she and Trustee Beyer had met with school board members of nearby districts, and that she believed North Shore should work with those districts, in particular Roslyn and Manhasset, through the Legislative Action Committee, to create a single resolution for adoption by the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), that would then become a part of that organization’s legislative agenda.
END OF PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
The board approved action Items E (Personnel) and F (the 2014-15 school calendar). During the calendar discussion, Trustee Nightingale asked whether something could be done about the one hour days at the end of the elementary school year. Dr. Melnick replied that that was a contractual issue and could only be addressed through the collective bargaining process.
Items G through M were approved
There was a brief discussion about the statement that is now included under “PUBLIC COMMENT” on the meeting agenda. Dr. Melnick stated that he had incorporated two of Trustee Russo’s suggestions. The board also agreed to change the word “permit” to “entertain” in the fifth bullet point.
Trustee Beyer said that the Legislative Action Committee needs to arrange a meeting with Manhasset CACLA and the similar type of committee in Roslyn.