AT ANNUAL MEETING, BOARD UNANIMOUSLY RE-ELECTS BERLINER PRESIDENT, LABBATE VICE-PRESIDENT; DEADLOCKED OVER DESIGNATING OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER
July 8, 2015 -- At the North Shore School Board’s annual (organizational) meeting held on Tuesday evening, the six trustees present voted unanimously for its Vice President and President, but were deadlocked over which local newspapers to designate as the district’s “official” newspapers.
Trustee Toni Labbate, re-elected this past May, was sworn in for her second three year term as a trustee at the meeting’s start, and was soon thereafter chosen by her colleagues to serve as the board’s Vice President. Herman Berliner, who also won re-election, to a third term, unable to attend the meeting, had taken the oath of office earlier this week. He was re-elected in absentia on Tuesday to serve as the Board’s President, a post he has held for the past two years.
All of the many appointments and organizational authorizations made at the meeting were done, as is typical, without comment or discussion, with the exception of the designation of the District's "official" newspaper.
After a motion was made and seconded to designate both the Glen Cove Record Pilot and the Gold Coast Gazette as the official papers, Trustee Joanna Commander asked whether the district was required to have two official newspapers. Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick said that the District was not so required but that the School Board a number of years ago had decided to designate both papers for “political reasons” - so as not to offend either.
Trustee Marianne Russo said that she believed that the district was legally obligated to post certain public notices in two newspapers. Dr. Melnick agreed but explained that the notices could be posted in other papers, not only the official paper. He said that it was not legally required for the district to designate an official paper, but that it was board policy to do so, and that it helped give guidance to the district information officer concerning who to contact when disseminating information to the public. Public Relations Director Shelly Newman was in the audience and said that she sends articles to many news publications in the area, not just the official papers.
Trustee Sara Jones asked whether designating two papers as official newspapers created an extra cost for the district. Dr. Melnick said that there was no cost to having “official” papers, but only for the posting of public notices. He said that the publication of notices was completely separate from designating an official newspaper. The advantage to having “official” papers, he continued, was for public relations purposes only.
“Does it have to be a print publication,” asked Trustee Lara Gonzalez, “or can it be exclusively an online news site?”
Dr. Melnick replied that state law required public notices to be posted in print publications, but that he did not think “it mattered who you designate as your official newspaper.” He continued, however, that he was unsure if it could be an online publication.
Trustee Commander stated that she had concerns about designating the Gold Coast Gazette as one of the official newspapers in light of anonymous advertisements it had published in the past year that “had encouraged some mean spirited conversations within the district.”
“We are an official public group representing this community,” she said, “and I think we should have a way of responding to some of the things placed in the Gazette.”
Trustee Gonzalez said that "the board has the courage to sit in front of our public and respond to our public." However, she continued "when someone puts in news print a paid anonymous advertisement, that raises issues for me personally.”
[ed. note - The Gazette had published two full page ads, one last December and another in late April 2015, paid for by an anonymous sponsor, that alleged that during the 2014 school board election campaign a candidate had used district resources to make automated telephone calls on behalf of her candidacy. No evidence was included in the ads supporting the claim. The unsubstantiated allegation, among others, was also included in a district resident's petition to overturn the election submitted to the State Eduction Commissioner. In a decision handed down in late April, the Commissioner dismissed the petition, on both procedural grounds and for a lack of merit to the claims.]
Trustee Russo responded to Ms. Commander and Ms. Gonzalez saying that there “is something called the First Amendment and freedom of the press, and they’re entitled to print every side of every issue and if someone wants to pay for it, there’s nothing stopping someone else from paying for it to respond. I don’t feel comfortable voting for censorship."
“I don’t see how we’re bringing in censorship,” said Trustee Commander, “I’m just voicing my concern.”
“And I’m voicing my response,” replied Trustee Russo.
“I think there’s a difference between censorship and journalistic ethics when it comes to anonymity versus printing signed letters to the editor.” Trustee Jones said.
Trustee Nightingale said that it seemed that the reason behind designating two papers was to help foster a good relationship with the press.
A vote was then held to designate both the Gold Coast Gazette and the Glen Cove Record Pilot as the official district newspapers. Trustees Labbate, Nightingale and Russo voted “yes,” while Trustees Commander, Gonzalez and Jones voted “no.” The resolution, therefore, did not pass.
A second vote will be held at the next meeting, in late August, when a seventh trustee, Board President Herman Berliner, is expected to be present. Dr. Melnick said that he would have information for the board concerning what types of publications can be designated “official newspapers.”
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Board Notes - Other Headlines from 7.7.15 BOE Meeting
- DISTRICT GOALS FOR 2015-16
DISTRICT GOALS -
Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick outlined goals for the 2015-16 school year. There were three general categories - Instructional, Evaluation, and Fiscal Planning.
Instructional goals -
He said that the Athletics review that began this past spring will continue with the outside evaluators scheduled to present their report to the board in December. So far, with regard to a questionnaire that had been sent out, the reviewers had gotten about 500 responses from students and 300 from parents.
He said that the Guidance Review committee had requested a six month extension for the review - into December or January.
Dr. Melnick suggested putting off review of District Social Studies and Science programs until after new state frameworks have been fully implemented.
He recommended a review of FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School Program for the 15-16 school year.
The Superintendent said that the district would continue to address issues related to the decommissioning of the power plant and the potential tax shift. He also said that with the expiration of the current capital reserve fund, he recommended that a proposition be put on next May’s budget ballot creating a new capital reserve. He said that the district engineering firm would conduct a review of district facilities and prepare a report on what major capital projects need to be done over the next decade. The proposition put before voters would have to state the amount that can be held in the reserve; the duration (with a 10 year maximum established by the state); and a list of specific projects and the estimated cost of each.
During the Discussion that followed the Superintendent’s presentation, a few of the Trustees offered their thoughts.
Trustee Jones commented that she was concerned that there seemed to be a greater emphasis on the humanities in the instructional goals. She said it was important to look at Math and Science - in particular in the elementary schools. Assistant Superintendent Robert Cheblicki suggested that there be a presentation to the board of elementary math programs. Dr. Melnick stated that he would like to have an outside review of STEM and that it be done by an outside consultant but that the next “Tri-states” review would not take place until 2017-18. He said that if the Board wanted a Math review before then, it would have to be an outside consultant.
Trustee Russo expressed concerns about how International Baccalaureate Math and Science courses would work together with AP courses in terms of scheduling. She suggested surveying parents and students about how they feel about IB and its impact on AP courses. She also suggested that parent informational workshops be offered to k-12 parents to update them on changes and developments in the math program. The math programs keep changing, she said.
Trustee Gonzalez said that she would like the district to not only have operational goals, but aspirational goals as well. In particular she said it was important to look at the extent to which there is equity in how the district is reaching out to and meeting the needs of students of different ethnic, gender, and socio-economic backgrounds. Trustee Jones agreed and encouraged the district to consider the equity issue when reviewing and evaluating programs.
During the public comment period, Glen Head resident Robert Mazella suggested that in its review of programs, the district compare the percentage of students who took Advancement Placement courses over the past few years and received college credit for those courses and who earned grades of 3 and higher, and those who go through the IB program and receive College Credit and receive comparable grades on the IB assessments.
The board members agreed to what district-wide committees each would serve on. The assignments were as follows: Construction Steering - Commander, Labbate, Russo; Health and Safety - Jones; Board Policy Review - Commander, Gonzalez, Nightingale; Legislative Action Committee - Berliner, Labbate, Russo; IEP Review - Commander, Gonzalez; Audit Subcommittees - External - Russo, Commander; Internal - Jones, Labatte; Claims - Gonzalez and Nightingale; Legal Subcommittee- Russo, Nightingale, Berliner.
During Public Comment, Sea Cliff resident Tim Madden noted that in some districts the Audit Committee is like North Shore’s - made up of only School Board members, while in other districts the Audit Committee is made up of both Board members and community members. He said that including community members can help with perceptions concerning a district’s transparency.
During Old Business, after Dr. Melnick encouraged board members to think over the summer about what items should appear on future agendas, Trustee Jones suggested that the board put on a future agenda a discussion item regarding the composition of the Audit Committee to consider including community members.
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