NORTH SHORE BOE DIVIDED OVER CHANGING LAC BYLAWS
October 7, 2014 -- A divided North Shore Board of Education cast rare split votes this past Thursday evening over changing the bylaws of the district's Legislative Action Committee (LAC).
Modeled on a similar group in the Manhasset School District, LAC is a citizen's advisory committee that was formed by the Board of Education in the spring of 2011, and charged with identifying, studying and analyzing laws and regulations “that have a deleterious impact upon the District” and “recommending changes that would be beneficial to the District.” Additionally the committee is expected to “serve as a liaison between the community and the Board” on those types of issues.
When formed, the committee's size was set at seven, with each member going through an application process and being appointed by the Board. Last year the group was expanded to nine members. Under the current bylaws, the Board appoints a chairperson to lead the committee, who in turn appoints a secretary to record minutes, post meetings for public notice, take attendance, and serve in place of the Chair, should he or she be absent.
Dr. Berliner opened the discussion at Thursday's meeting proposing that the committee's bylaws be revised to expand LAC’s size to eleven and to create a Vice Chairperson position.
With regard to the first proposal, Dr. Berliner said that there are “highly competent” individuals in the community who have expressed interest in serving and that they could help “create a stronger LAC with just a slight expansion in size.”
In September the Board had re-appointed one member to the committee, filled two openings, for which there had only been two applications, and appointed former school board trustee Amy Beyer to serve as the committee's chair, a position for which two individuals had expressed interest, according to Board President Herman Berliner in response to questions from Northwordnews this past August. In that vote, Trustee Marianne Russo voted "no" and Trustee Michael Nightingale abstained.
This past Thursday, Trustee Toni Labatte stated that the issue of expanding the committee had arisen at the last LAC meeting and that the members of the committee had expressed concerns that expanding too much could make it unwieldy. Dr. Berliner said that he agreed, but that he did not believe adding only two more members would have that effect.
Trustee Sara Jones asked if there would be an open application process for the two positions. Dr. Berliner replied that there would be.
Trustee Michael Nightingale said that expanding the committee's size would enable it to address more issues. Trustee Marianne Russo added that a larger size would allow for the creation of subcommittees to address those issues.
With regard to the Vice-Chair position, Dr. Berliner asserted that the position would provide support to the Chairperson and that he would abolish the secretary’s position, with minutes being taken by committee members on a rotating basis. Trustee Labatte said that if that were the case perhaps the Vice-Chair ought to take on the secretary’s functions, effectively changing the job title, and giving the board authority to appoint rather than the Committee chair. Dr. Berliner embraced that idea.
Trustee Sara Jones said that she was concerned about “changing bylaws without a compelling reason to do so.”
Additionally, she commented that it was her understanding that when LAC was created, the operating structure with a Chair and Secretary was created to distinguish it from the school board.
Dr. Berliner replied that in the past, there were concerns that if the LAC's structure too closely resembled that of the School Board, that it could be perceived as a "shadow board." He said that he did not have those concerns since it is understood that the committee serves at the pleasure of the board.
Dr. Berliner then invited Legislative Action Committee Members who were in attendance to ask questions and comment on the proposed changes.
LAC Chair Amy Beyer, who was on the Board when the committee was created, said she opposed the creation of a Vice-Chair position. “It was structured specifically so that it would not mimic the Board of Education and so that people would not have a sense that LAC was a shadow board,” she explained. “It wasn’t an arbitrary decision, it was a lengthy discussion.” She also noted that the first five functions of the Vice Chair would be secretarial, and that the only other function was to preside over meetings in the chair's absence, which she said does not occur often. "I’m not sure what the need is for a Vice-Chair,” she said. “Having been on the Board when the committee was created . . . I’m not sure what the purpose would be for the benefit of the committee.”
LAC member Larry Ruisi offered his support for the changes saying that he "did not see a degradation when it was expanded from seven to nine," and that he believed the new members brought energy to the committee, and that “a Vice-chair would inject some energy” as well. Additionally he said he believed that a single chair was appropriate for a committee of five but not for a larger committee of eleven, for which a Vice-Chair "could provide additional logistical support.” He also said it was important for continuity in case the chair could not attend a meeting.
Following the comments, Dr. Berliner then made a motion that an action item be placed on the agenda for the next meeting to vote on the expansion of the committee. The motion was seconded and passed five to two, with Trustees Gonzalez and Joanna Commander in the minority.
Dr. Berliner then made a motion that an action item be placed on the agenda for the next meeting to change LAC's bylaws to eliminate the secretary position and to create a Vice Chairperson position. The motion was seconded, but defeated, with Trustees Berliner, Nightingale and Russo voting yes, and Trustees Commander, Gonzalez, Jones, and Labatte voting no.
The author of the article, Tim Madden, is a member of the Legislative Action Committee.