DISTRICT LIKELY TO PUT $20 MILLION BOND ISSUE BEFORE VOTERS THIS DECEMBER; AN ADDITIONAL $10 MILLION NEXT YEAR
July 11, 2017 -- The North Shore School District is likely to put before voters this December a $20 million bond issue that would fund infrastructure improvements throughout the district, said school district officials at the Board of Education’s special meeting held at the Middle School cafetorium on Wednesday, July 5. Also under consideration is a separate $10 million bond issue that would fund instructional enhancements for which a community vote would not be held until later in 2018.
The recommendations for the infrastructure improvements, which will include, among other things, security enhancements and upgrades to bathrooms and locker rooms, were made by the district’s Construction Steering Committee (CSC) which includes Board Trustees, director of Buildings and Grounds John Hall, Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi, and other district officials.
Trustee and CSC member David Ludmar said that undertaking the projects was in the best interests of the district in the long run financially. "If you don't repair issues before they become an emergency, they balloon in costs and become crises," he explained.
The committee, he continued, "identified what the needs were and spent a lot of time whittling that down."
Potential projects, Mr. Ludmar explained, were divided into categories -- those that could be considered purely structural improvements and those that would better enable the district to meet instructional and curricular goals.
The $10 million instructional component, he said, will require more study, and thus advised against including those projects in the December bond vote.
"We don't want to be hasty," he said. "That requires a longer term and more comprehensive conversation, but we didn't want to lose the time for going ahead with the necessary parts to take advantage of the even debt and what are still historically low rates for borrowing."
Overall, he said, debt service for $30 million in new borrowing would just about equal the amount of debt service that will soon be paid off, and if phased in as the existing debt is retired, would not cause any change in taxes.
Debt service is exempt from the New York State imposed tax cap.
Trustee Marianne Russo agreed with Mr. Ludmar that the $20 million bond issue be put before voters in December.
As for the projects themselves, she said the District needs to be mindful of new state regulations regarding transgender rights and privacy issues when designing the locker room and bathroom upgrades.
Delaying the $10 million worth of instructional projects, she said, "would give the community the opportunity to have some say in the process and priortize projects."
"The community part is critical," agreed Trustee Sara Jones.
Board President Toni Labbate said that for the initial $20 million in borrowing it was important to to educate the community outside of the board meetings.
Trustee Russo suggested that educational materials be prepared for distribution at Homecoming on September 16.
At a meeting of the North Shore Board of Education on Wednesday, July 5, the trustees debated the wisdom of introducing an anti-substance abuse program known as Preventure to the district’s 8th and 9th graders. Two of the six board members present, citing privacy concerns and the limited research on the effects of the program, said that they were opposed to the district adopting it, while two others said they supported it.
The program involves administering a survey to students that would enable school personnel who had undergone training to identify personality and temperament traits that researchers say put young people at a higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse. The traits include - impulsivity, sensation seeking, anxiety sensitivity, and negative thinking. Students who test one standard deviation above normal in any of those areas are considered at risk. With that information in hand, counseling and other services would be offered to the students to help them develop coping strategies.
At a board meeting last month, Superintendent Ed Melnick, who retired on July 1, said that after having received a legal opinion from the District’s attorneys, the survey would not be mandatory and that parents would have to give their informed consent.
This past Thursday, when it came time for the board to vote on whether or not to approve a contract with the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Sainte-Justine (CHUSJ), a Montreal pediatric hospital, and Patricia Conrod, a substance abuse expert in the Department of Psychiatry there, Trustee Marianne Russo, as she has stated at previous meetings, said she had serious concerns with the program.
“I’m concerned about the type of training, privacy and the profiling of students,” she explained.
The trustee continued that she believes in a district as small as North Shore, teachers, counselors and other staff through their observations would be better able to identify students in need of support and counseling as opposed to “a survey that will profile and pigeonhole students.” She added that administering the survey and providing the counseling posed “a potentially huge liability for the district.”
Trustee David Ludmar agreed.
“I’m concerned about kids getting a scarlet letter,” he said and added that identifying students as having a propensity for alcohol or drug abuse could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mr. Ludmar also expressed concerns that the program has never been tried in an American school district.
“There’s not enough information,” he said.
He explained that he has heard “people say we have to do something,” but that he did not believe it was wise to try something for which there has not been extensive study.
“I can’t support this,” Mr. Ludmar said.
Trustee Joanna Commander, who has been a strong advocate for bringing the program to North Shore, said that she understood the importance of confidentiality and that measures would be in place to protect the privacy rights of students.
Trustee Sara Jones said that she supported the program’s implementation at North Shore.
“This is a real opportunity,” she explained. “The group has had some measureable results.”
“As far as labelling,” she continued, “they are only looking for four traits. These are things you would want to help kids with.”
“Once a trait is identified,” added Trustee Commander, “it creates a blueprint for working with that kid. No one else knows the information other than the social workers.”
Trustee Russo responded that there are stringent privacy requirements under federal law. Additionally she questioned the ability of the district to offer the counseling.
“We’re not in a position to offer a treatment program,” she said. “To think a survey is going to be a sufficient tool? We could be doing more damage than good.”
The District’s attorney Kerriann Conde, who was sitting in the audience, than offered her opinion regarding confidentiality. CHUSJ, she said, is not receiving student data. “It’s almost like professional development,” she continued, with the institution providing training. She added that results would not be put into a student profile and that parents must offer their consent.
“I’m very concerned about this,” replied Trustee Russo.
“Don’t we already collect sensitive data?” asked Trustee Jones.
Trustee Ludmar said that while he is “optimistic about the science, there is no proof or evidence anywhere,” of the program’s success. Additionally he repeated concerns about a stigma being attached to those who test positive. He suggested that stress, anxiety and time management workshops could be offered to all students.
Trustee Commander said that she believed parents should be given the opportunity to learn if their children possess one of the four personality traits.
Trustee Jones said that studies have shown positive results.
Board President Toni Labbate suggested that the resolution to approve the contract be tabled and that the trustees email any questions they have about the program to interim acting Superintendent Rob Chlebicki. “We need more expert opinion on this,” she said.
The board voted 5-1 to postpone the vote on the contract with CHUSJ to a later meeting.
Trustee Commander cast the lone "no" vote.
BACK TO WEEKLY
NORTH SHORE BOE TRUSTEES AND OFFICERS SWORN IN AT ANNUAL MEETING
At its Annual Organization meeting this past July 5, District Clerk Betty Ciampi, who was sworn into that office once again herself, administered the oath of office to new trustee Robert Galati who was elected this past May and incumbent Joanna Commander who is starting her second three year term. Additionally Robert Chlebicki was sworn in as interim acting Superintendent to replace Dr. Edward Melnick who retired on July 1. Dr. Peter Giarrizzo, who was tapped by the Board to lead the District will not take the reins until the end of August. Board President Toni Labbate and Vice President Sara Jones were unanimously re-elected to their offices by their board colleagues.
July 12, 2017 -- The North Shore School District’s Athletics attendance policy which expels students from Varsity teams after three "unexcused" absences from practice once again became the source of debate and criticism when a resident at the July 5 Board of Education meeting asked for clarification as to whether the policy allowed students to miss sports practices to participate on academic field trips.
Currently the attendance policy lists only four possible excused absences - personal illness, death in the family, religious observance and an injury evaluation at a doctor's office.
Despite parent protestations over the past two years against the expulsion policy at the high school level, in its most recent version, published in February, an expulsion penalty was extended to the middle school level for players who have five unexcused absences. Previously, there had been no such penalty for seventh and eighth graders.
The resident, Tim Madden (also the author of this article), said at the July 5 meeting that he had recently become aware of a child who was prohibited from participating in a spring sport because the child had gone on the AP Biology research trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Mr. Madden said that he had read the most recent version of the attendance policy, which is posted on the District website, and was surprised to see field trips still listed as an “unexcused absence” despite statements by district officials at public BOE meetings that that would no longer be the case for academic day trips that run into sports team practice time.
Additionally, Mr. Madden noted that former Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick had said at a meeting in April that allowing student-athletes to participate on sports teams despite their participation on overseas trips such as those organized by the foreign language, music, and science departments was “under consideration.”
The list of four excused absences was developed by the Athletics Policy Committee after parents in the spring of 2015 challenged the expulsion of their daughter from the Varsity softball team for having missed three practices to participate in the women’s ice hockey junior nationals tournament on the grounds that the policy at the time was not explicit about what constituted an “excused” or “unexcused” absence.
The following fall, another parent addressed the Board concerning the policy after her daughter was excluded from the JV soccer team for the entire season because her family chose to attend her grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration which included the renewal of their wedding vows and a family reunion in Ireland during the second to last week of August. The family planned ten months ahead, scheduling the event to accommodate the child and her soccer season since traditionally summer practices have begun the week before the start of school - not two weeks before as was the case that year. Unable to change the reservations or accommodations when they became aware of the conflict in June, they immediately appealed for leniency to the coach and athletic director but were rejected, and then took their case to the superintendent later that summer to no avail.
That fall the Athletics Department hosted a forum that allowed parents who are not on the Athletics Policy Committee to offer their thoughts regarding the attendance policy. Although lightly attended, with about a dozen parents turning out, all but one or two said they believed that while they recognized the importance of attending practice and games and holding athletes accountable with penalties, expulsion was too draconian and the definition of “excused” too narrow.
The revisions to the policy published in February did not reflect that input but did extend an expulsion penalty into the middle school program and provide for the creation of an appeals panel that allows parents to challenge an expulsion from a team.
The panel consists of the High School Athletic Director, Middle School Athletic Director, a coach (who does not coach the athlete) and a student. The policy is not clear on how the student panelist is selected.
At the Wednesday July 5 meeting, Mr. Madden, speaking specifically about field trips, said that excluding students from teams for pursuing academic opportunities that are offered and encouraged by the high school was inconsistent with the vision and mission of the district, and noted that Trustee Herman Berliner, who was absent from the meeting, agreed with that point at another meeting last fall.
"It is not a decision of the Board," said President Toni Labbate, "it is an athletic policy." However, she questioned whether there was a representative sampling of parent, student and community voices involved in the discussions that had taken place.
Trustee Sara Jones said she thought it would be a good idea for the new superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo to take a look at the policy, and believed Dr. Melnick had been working on changes regarding the overnight field trips prior to his retirement.
Speaking of the policy more generally, Trustee Joanna Commander stated that the policy had been developed over a 10 year period with the input of administrators, coaches and parents. She said that it was intended to improve the competitiveness of the interscholastic athletics program.
"My biggest concern," she said, "is not the policy itself, but the consistency of the policy. The purpose [of the policy] was to have consistency and fairness." Changing the policy, she continued, could impact the competitiveness of the program.
Also speaking of the policy more broadly, Trustee Marianne Russo said that equity had been a problem in the past and that she believed the attendance policy protected all members of a team.
"It isn't fair to the rest of the team to allow key members to not be present if they've worked so hard all season," she explained but added that she can see both the point of view of the Athletics Department and that of those who have raised questions about the policy.
"Equity is important," agreed Trustee David Ludmar, "but the point that members of the community have brought up as a problem with the policy is that there are other aspects of our district that should be taking part [in formulating it] and reflected in the policy. . . . That's why I think it is a question that continues to be discussed."
Mr. Madden said that he did not believe it was appropriate for the Athletics Department and any policy committee working on its behalf to develop the field trip policy since it impacts the high school’s academic programs. It is more appropriate, he continued, for that part of the policy to be designed by administrators or committees that are more representative of the school as a whole rather than by those who are looking at the issue from the perspective of athletics alone.
BACK TO WEEKLY
INVITING INPUT FROM PARENTS, COMMITTEE RE-THINKS NORTH SHORE ATHLETICS ATTENDANCE POLICY (October, 30, 2016)
BOE DISCUSSES SOCIAL STUDIES CHANGES AND ATHLETICS ATTENDANCE POLICY AT 10.20 MEETING (October 24, 2016)
ANOTHER PARENT QUESTIONS FAIRNESS OF ATHLETICS ATTENDANCE POLICY (October 10, 2016)
Editorial - BOE PUNTS ON ATHLETICS ABOVE ALL ELSE ATTENDANCE POLICY (October 14, 2016)