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Elected Officials Hear School Districts' Concerns

Politicians hear worries about unfunded mandates.

The Hewlett-Woodmere Board of Education hosted a New York State Legislators’ Forum on Friday at the .

Senator Dean Skelos and Assemblymen Harvey Weisenberg, Edward Ra and Brian Curran met with school district representatives to discuss the challenges facing public schools on Long Island.

Board members, school district administrators, and PTA representatives from 11 local school districts attended the forum. Participating districts included: Baldwin, East Rockaway, Hewlett-Woodmere, Lawrence, Long Beach, Lynbrook, Valley Stream #13, Valley Stream #24, Valley Stream #30, Rockville Centre, and West Hempstead.

 “It is imperative to continue the conversation between state and local officials and the school districts they serve to ensure that the needs of students and community members are adequately represented,” said Hewlett-Woodmere Superintendent Dr. Joyce M. Bisso. “Long Island school districts are united in that we all face the same obstacle of being required to do much more, with significantly less funding from the government. In that scenario, it is the students who suffer most.”

Board Member Scott McInnes presented a “real-life” scenario for the legislators regarding the impact of the numerous new unfunded mandates from the state and county on local school districts. In the case of Hewlett-Woodmere, these unfunded mandates account for more than 88 percent of the district’s total budget increase for the 2012-2013 school year.

“It is important for our local officials to see first-hand just how these ongoing unfunded mandates affect our most precious commodity, the students,” he said. “The state and county continue to burden districts with these required initiatives with no assistance to fund them, and there is no end in sight.”

McInnes also appealed to the legislators to restore more than $16 million in funding that was taken away from the school districts present at the forum under the GAP Elimination Adjustment several years ago.

Representatives from all the districts present also addressed the senator and assemblymen with similar issues regarding unfunded mandates, including the new teacher and principal evaluation system; the negative impact of cutting staff, programs, and services; restoration of funds eliminated under GAP Adjustment; the costs of special education services; and the undermining of the mission of public education in New York State.

The legislators actively listened and were responsive to the dialogue. Skelos, Weisenberg, Ra and Curran thanked the representatives present and requested that the districts form specific recommendations. A follow-up meeting was tentatively scheduled for October 2012.

Chris Albanese May 01, 2012 at 02:39 PM
As far as the iPads go, has anyone contacted apple or checked their website? I know from my past experience as an SBM that companies like Apple & Dell have programs specifically designed to get their products into the schools, if not for free tat greatly reduced prices. Even if it's the old iPad with some upgrades or other tablet with a compatible OS. It also doesn't have to be every student from the 2nd grade to the 8th in year one. That would be nice, but we are not the only school district that has that need/want. This involves someone taking the time to do the research and write out the grant proposal. Even if we got 25, 50 or 100 iPads (or other tablets) that the students could use as part of their studies, we'd be helping them immensely.
melissa gates May 01, 2012 at 02:51 PM
There is absolutely value to using technology in the classroom...however, there is more value in hands on projects where children collaborate and interact with each other. Realistically, in this economy where many school districts have had to slash programs left and right, this is not the time to suggest a costly program to the taxpayers. We are very lucky that our budget comes in under the 2% tax levy cap. I don't expect that other districts that have gone over will be able to pass their budget with a supermajority of 60%...I fear for the education of their kids and for education in the State of New York as a whole. I believe Fred takes credit for the notepad program at the High School. This is the first year that every student at the High School will get a school issued notepad...it has been phased in grade by grade for the last several years with no impact to the school budget. Fred may or may not be aware that there have been very mixed reviews from teachers, students, and parents on whether or not this has been a successful program. Giving second graders Ipads is a ludicrous notion. The district does look for ways to incorporate technology and to keep current or ahead of the rest...this has to be done in a thoughtful manner. And, dear Fred, for you to say that you are the only educator in our candidate group is like Cuomo declaring himself the sole advocate for children and education in the State of New York. Ridiculous.
E. Rollins May 01, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Melissa - You are spot on! Technology is great, but our kids are already getting sucked up in glowing screens left & right. We need teachers working with the kids, not just sticking them in front of yet another electronic device. As for Fred taking credit for the Tablets at the High School, if he's really trying to do that, he's delusional. Les Omotani started that years ago. What's Fred going to take credit for next? Inventing the internet?
E. Rollins May 01, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Does anyone know what and where Fred Teaches? His self-aggrandizing website says he has 17 years in education, but also said he only spent one year a year as an assistant principal. Since when do competent assistant principals go back to teaching again? With all due respect to teachers, don't teachers who become administrators stay on that career track after making the move?
Stephen B. Witt May 01, 2012 at 08:41 PM
To: E. Rollins I do know his history but I won't engage in a negative campaign because that's not the kind of person you want to represent you on the school board. I will confirm that we owe our thanks to Dr. Omotani for coming up with the idea of Tablets at the High School and for designing the implementation plan. Les was great working with. Steve Witt 2012 Candidate for re-election to the Hewlett-Woodmere School Board
Chris Albanese May 01, 2012 at 08:45 PM
To be fair, I know a LOT of teachers <family, friends, former co-workers> and quite a few came to the realization that they were happy with their class and only their class. They did not want to be responsible for their former colleagues. It's the old, what you do when we're friends and coworkers is fine, but if you do that stuff when I'm your boss, we're going to have problems.
Jonathan Altus May 02, 2012 at 01:57 AM
All of us are very sensitive to salaries of administrators and teachers.However, let's not make them scapegoats.The district has stayed below the cap has eliminated "administrative positions". I'm all about about finding solutuions and obtaining our fair share of state aid. Jonathan Altus 2012 Candidate for Hewlett-Woodmere School Board
E. Rollins May 02, 2012 at 11:59 AM
@Chris Albanese - If that's the case, and Fred prefers to teach rather than lead, that's fine, but then he should apply the same philosophy to being on the board,and leave the leadership positions to Steve, Melissa and Jonathan.
E. Rollins May 02, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Chris - FYI (and Fred's too since he seems to be uninformed on so many of the issues) there currently IS a pilot program at Franklin with students using Ipads. They are already using the technology and integrating it into the programs in a logical, responsible manner. That's a much better plan than Fred's suggestion to shotgun 2500 ipads to all of the students from 2nd -12th grade at a cost approaching $1,000,0000. But, I'm sure if you want more details you can privately e-mail Fred at his website and he will privately e-mail you back. Apparently the entire human race just sitting in front of glowing screens is part of Fred's vision for the future,and he doesn't want to answer questions in a public forum (like this page) for all to see.
Sally M. May 02, 2012 at 02:23 PM
In reply to Mr. Altus, the point is not to scapegoat administrators earning lavish salary/benefit packages, but to blame the Board and the complacency of the community for allowing this to happen. Folks do not set their own salary, they accept positions where out of touch and irresponsible boards mismanage the publics purse. I have no criticism of any kind for any of the great employee's of the District- as far as I can discern they are all wonderful professionals. So much for your straw man distraction-
E. Rollins May 02, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Sally - are you saying the board comes to an administrator and says "Here's your lavish contract", and the administrator just says "Oh, you shouldn't have."? BOTH sides had a hand in whatever contracts were signed. To attack someone who isn't even on the board yet for contracts that were signed 3 years ago is very unfair.
Chris Albanese May 02, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Just to be clear, I don't have a horse in the race so to speak. I am fairly new to the community and don't have grudges or allegiances going back to high school that seem to prevail in the five towns. I am free to vote for the person(s) that I think will do the best job for our community without the baggage of needing to appease anyone or any group. I am enjoying the back and forth that Patch is providing. It is very informative on many levels. Thanks Stephen
melissa gates May 02, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Chris, that is good to hear. One of the things that I said in my interview with the Herald and to some community members as well is that people need to let go of things of the past. Our Board of today is much different than the Board of yesterday. People need to communicate what they would like to be different but let go of any animosity or the "us against them" mentality that prevails. One of the things I would like to see happen is for the Board to not just listen to the recommendations given by administration but to also think for themselves. And E. Rollins...I have also said that I would hate it if I were to get on the Board and people would continue to use the term "The Board" in sweeping generalizations of things that happened long before I even got there...I love your comment! There are new ideas afoot. And still I chose to be part of a team with Steve because I also think there is tremendous value in knowing the history of a Board and what has gone on in the past. As well, our similar views with Jon on APPR and unfunded mandates and the like are at the core of what this district will need to stay afloat during these difficult economic times. I too would like to hear Fred's views on these issues...his website seems very outdated with very little that is relevant to what is going on today...this concerns me.
Jonathan Altus May 02, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Sally-I'm trying to be on the school board to find solutions. I'm open to listening to others in the community. If they are practical and constructive, I will be a passionate proponent. Complaining about exising salaries in the middle of contracts iis not productive.
E. Rollins May 03, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I don't think the Patch should be titling this page as "The Candidates Debate Credibility" anymore. Fred U. hasn't debated anything for the last 3 days and instead wants everyone to go to his website and send him e-mails. Perhaps it should be "Melissa, Jonathan and Steve continue to discuss the issues with the public while Fred goes into hiding." How can he credibly claim he would be a vocal advocate for the community if he won't even discuss the issues here in a public forum?
E. Rollins May 03, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Question for the candidates: There was a Budget hearing last night, right? I know the issue of coming to meetings was raised earlier. Were all of the candidates at the hearing last night?
Stephen J. Bronner May 03, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I attended last night's meeting. I saw Mr. Witt, Ms. Gates and Mr. Altus.
Sally M. May 03, 2012 at 06:01 PM
E. Rollins- What I am saying is that I don't blame anyone for taking a job at the best salary/benefits they can, thats what they should be doing they are after all working for compensation. To be clear- the teachers and administrators are BLAMELESS. They have a right and obligation to bargain for the best packages they can. The responsibility lies solely with the employer as to what that employer is willing to offer and recompense. Secondly, I attacked no one, please take the time to read before you respond. I answered a false and misleading post by Mr. Altus that completely distorted what I wrote. Thirdly, the problem is obviously with the institution itself, so when I say the 'Board' i am not attacking any one individual. The proof is in the pudding as they say. Lastly, to claim that staying within the cap represent some kind of real accomplishment when the District budget has balooned so outrageously in recent years, and is surely going to do the same on a go forward basis, is absurd and insulting. If you do not appreciate the urgency and the immediacy of tackling this problem head on, then you should not be on the school board. Unless of course you plan on funding the entire school budget yourself when most of your neighbors have given up and fled in poverty or disgust.
E. Rollins May 03, 2012 at 06:10 PM
So Fred wasn't there? A hearing on a $100,000,000+ budget and he can't come out to see/hear what's going on? He wants to complain about "credibility" but can't even get to a budget hearing? Shame on him!!
E. Rollins May 03, 2012 at 06:15 PM
"Lastly, to claim that staying within the cap represent some kind of real accomplishment when the District budget has balooned so outrageously in recent years, and is surely going to do the same on a go forward basis, is absurd and insulting." Sally, over the last few years the budget increases have gotten smaller and smaller. Were they too high? ABSOLUTELY! Has the trend seemed to have changed, even before the tax cap? Absolutely! How exactly is the budget going to "continue to balloon so outrageously" when the state has imposed a 2% tax cap? Low increases are now mandated by the state!
Sally M. May 03, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Oh I don't know, lets try some basic math. 2% of 105m is what now, and what is that compared to 2% of 60m? And of course it could go up 10% with a 60% vote, can it not? Perhaps I misunderstand that bit. Notwithstanding all this, we are still in an absurd situation and after you have beaten the patient to near death you want everyone to be thrilled that you are only inflicting minor wounds going forward, but let the patient remain critical from past wounds...
E. Rollins May 03, 2012 at 09:56 PM
You are correct that a 60% vote override the cap, but what are the odds of that in Hewlett-Woodmere? Slim to none? We are lucky to get our budgets passes at 50.1%. So, what do you propose sally? Cut teachers? Increase class sizes? Cut programs? Offer less options in the high school? Eliminate Kindergarten? Buy ipads for everyone as Fred suggests? A time machine perhaps and go back to when the budgets went up at 6% and change them now? We still have issues that the districts needs to address, but wishing things were different (or suggesting that they are wasting their time trying to get back the money the state took away from us) is not responsible either. I'm glad they started cutting back on the administrators, and if they had to buy them out for $160,000 this year to save $350,000 this year, next year, and year after year after that, then I think that's a step in the right direction, even if Fred doesn't.
Fred Usherson May 03, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Hi everyone, I'd like to thank everyone in the community for all your emails of support. It has been absolutely overwhelming and I will try to answer all of them before the election. In the mean time, I challenge my opponents to stick to the issues and not the personal attacks. People want to hear your ideas, not your attacks. Also, I just updated my website again and I am publishing my unedited response to the candidates questions published in the May 3, 2012 Nassau Herald. There's alot more that I said about our district than was published in the Herald. Again, you can always email me through my website at FRED4HW.COM.
E. Rollins May 04, 2012 at 11:41 AM
So you want the candidates to stick to the issues, but again refuse to participate in the conversation at all? How do you justify that Fred? Here are some issues I would like to see you stick to, here, in a public forum, for all to see. How many Board meetings have you attended in the last year? Did you attend the budget meetings over the last couple of months? You have complained about the retirement incentive, but never responded on the issue that the $160,000 in ONE TIME incentives this year helped the district save $350,000+ this year AND every year thereafter as well. Do you not see that as money well invested? You claim that the district is "ignoring the children at FECC", and that the district should be using ipads. Are you aware of the program that is ALREADY using ipads at FECC, the school you claim they are "ignoring"? You tell us that you have been in education for 18 years but only spent 1 year as an assistant principal. Why? Please explain. You suggested the district buy ipad2's for all students in the 2nd-12th grades. That would cost upwards of $1,000,0000. What would you cut to come up with that money?
E. Rollins May 04, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Fred: Rather than spend allot of time responding individually to those people who you claim have e-mailed you in support, why not answer a few simple questions here, where you can address lots of voters all at once and they can see where you stand on these issues. There are serious issues facing the district and they should be discussed here, in public (as you would have to as a trustee). You would also be much more effective in reaching more voters all at once, rather than e-mailing thank you notes to those people you claim have e-mailed directly. Its amazing you claim so many people are e-mailing you in support, yet not a single person has chimed in on this discussion to say they support you or think you should be elected. Seems odd, don't you think?
Stephen B. Witt May 06, 2012 at 02:08 AM
To E. Rollins: As Stephen said Ms. Gates, Mr. Altus and I were at the budget meeting. The other candidate running for the school board was not. I wish he came because we could have had a debate on the issues facing public education and in particular Hewlett-Woodmere.
Stephen B. Witt May 07, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Did you know that the new education commission established by the Governor has some outstanding members but does not have a school board member or association representing school districts? This commission undermines the State Education department and gives the appearance that the Governor wants to take away local control and merge school districts. We for one are opposed to anything that takes away local control. Steve, Melissa and Jon
Stephen B. Witt May 10, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Fred, You are correct about giving $150,000 early retirement incenttive but if you had been to our board meetings you would have known that we saved over $300,000 the first year and alot more after that. Anyone doing their math and concerned about property tax would be happy with what the school board did.
Chris Albanese May 10, 2012 at 05:50 PM
As a former School Business Manager in the NYC DOE, I say GOD BLESS YOU!!! Things go straight into the toilet when you try to make "cookie cutter" school districts. We need to remian in charge of our SD and I am with you 100% to keep the state's grubby mitts off of our children's education. Can you imagine if they tried to merge us with Lawrence/Inwood/Cedarhurst + VS N/S/C + Lynbrook to form a "Region" like they did in the city. What a disaster that would be. Thanks for the info Mr. Witt.
Chris Albanese May 10, 2012 at 05:57 PM
E. I was unaware that a pilot iPad program had started at FECC. I thought by having a student currently enrolled there I would have heard something about it. Perhaps they wanted to keep it on the DL until it they got some feedback at the end of the year or they just didn't want a hundred parents demanding one for their child too.

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