The meeting of the Glen Cove City School District Board of Education on May 22 followed a different format from just about every other meeting it has had this year. Instead of a superintendent’s report — during which Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna typically updates the public on the district’s biggest stories — the meeting became a community forum, enabling the public to voice their thoughts on the drafting of another bond to the board.
Still reeling from the failure of the $84.6 million school infrastructure bond on March 12, the board has yet to offer an alternative option over two months later. This was the public’s chance to provide direct feedback to the board, and most people who spoke were not shy about their opinions.
Michelle Chalfoun was the first to take the podium, reading a statement in which she spoke on the dangerous circumstances presented by the poor state of the schools’ infrastructure. She cited ceiling tiles falling on students’ heads, children slipping in water when roofs leak and the falling of a lighting structure onto the high school auditorium’s stage, the last of which she said could have killed somebody.
Chalfoun urged the board to draft and pass a new bond before the end of the school year, when this board’s tenure comes to an end. She also spoke on the importance of addressing residents who voted “no” on the bond.
“To those in the community and maybe in this room who would say, ‘Oh, but the cost is too high,’ I say my children’s lives are more important than your concerns about the bottom line,” she said. “And to those of you in the community or in this room who impede this process, I put you on notice. We see you, we know who you are and we will fight for our children.”
After resident Tina Braja said she was worried about how much time will pass before another bond is brought up, board president Gail Nedbor-Gross said the board’s goal is to draft a new bond by the end of June to be up for a community vote in the fall. When Kim Velentzas went to the microphone, she made it clear that this answer was not good enough and that the board has had 10 weeks to do something since the bond failed.
“The fact that nothing has been done . . . that you didn’t already have a plan B in place, is offensive to us as parents, is offensive to those who were so involved and worked so hard to try to educate the public,” said Velentzas. She added that it was insulting for board members to say they still needed to discuss another bond without having accomplished anything solid in the mean time.
Velentzas’s opinion prompted the board to enter into a discussion within itself. Trustee Monica Alexandris-Miller, who was part of the committee which put the bond together, said the committee was putting 100 percent of its efforts into getting the bond passed, making it so that a backup plan was not established. She agreed with Velentzas, saying that a new bond needs to move forward now.
Trustee David Huggins spoke up, saying that he was skeptical of some board members’ dedication to putting another bond up, although he didn’t specify as to who. “I think that there’s been board members here who have been stalling and putting their feet down and stopping this thing the entire time,” he said.
Nedbor-Gross told Huggins that the board had been working on the bond since the day the first one failed, to which Huggins replied, “You know what? I don’t need a response from you.”
Trustee Robert Field entered into the fray, asking if the board could have a bond to vote on by its next meeting on June 5. Nedbor-Gross said that the plan was to have one ready by June 13, but Alexandris-Miller said that would not give the bond enough time to go through bond council in order for the board to vote during its following board meeting on June 19, its final meeting of the school year.
Field suggested they come up with a date that moment. Nedbor-Gross protested, saying the board should hear from the public first. Field then asked the public if they minded, and several audience members voiced their support for his decision. After some discussion, the board ultimately decided to discuss a bond in private on June 3. The bond will then be put through the bond council, and if it is approved, the board will vote on it during its June 19 meeting. This would allow the community to vote for or against the bond in the fall.
Throughout the rest of the meeting, the public and the board discussed ways in which they can ensure that the next bond is passed by the public when it is voted upon. Several members of the audience said that exposing the public to the benefits of the bond would help its chances of being passed. Resident Faith Shapiro approached the podium with an idea to set up a small information booth in busy public settings such as Morgan Park over the summer. Audience and board members alike supported the idea, with several people from both parties saying that they would be willing to donate their time and educate the public on why the bond is needed.
In doing so, multiple audience members said, they can address those who do not want the bond passed. Before the March 12 vote, a flier was distributed throughout the city, urging residents to vote against the bond, as it would hike up the taxes or rent.
Trustee-elect Lia Leone said she has tried to identify who the person or people were who distributed those fliers, and that she has friends who are police officers and detectives who declined to get involved. “Tell me what I can do as a citizen,” Lia said, reenacting a conversation with these friends. “Tell me what I can do to try to figure out who these people are and to ask them, ‘What can we do to make this [bond] okay for our district to get this passed?’”
The Board of Education will have its penultimate meeting of the 2018-19 school year on June 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Glen Cove High School.