Rockville Centre school administrators meet with elected officials

Discuss marijuana, state funding, traffic, testing during two-hour gathering


Rockville Centre school administrators and the Board of Education met with local elected officials at the district’s administration building last week to discuss matters affecting students, taxpayers and the community as a whole.

Joining the school officials during the two-hour meeting on March 1 was State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin and Nassau County legislators Howard Kopel and William Gaylor. Representatives for U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice and County Legislator Debra Mulé also attended.

The issues discussed included state funding to schools, the future of standardized tests and traffic concerns in the village. But the potential legalization of recreational marijuana in New York spurred the most conversation. “We really need to put our heads together at the county, town and school district level to make sure that we really take care of our children,” Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen noted that the town enacted a one-year moratorium on weed sales within its borders, and a ban on smoking it in town parks and facilities. She added, however, that municipalities are in “a legal blur” until they see if a measure to legalize pot, which is currently included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, passes, and what it looks like.

Though Cuomo proposed an option for cities and counties with more than 100,000 residents to opt out of a statewide program to legalize recreational marijuana in January, Kaminsky said at the meeting that current negotiations at the state level would not allow for counties to opt out. Instead, only smaller municipalities, like towns and villages, would be given that chance.

Kaminsky added that polls in Nassau County show that a majority of residents are in favor of legalization. “We have two choices,” he said. “Either people get loud enough and try to slow it down, which you’re doing a good job of, or we try to get as many guardrails put up with as much clarity in the law as we can, so that it’s not around children.”

Assistant Superintendent Noreen Leahy, who oversees the school district’s drug, alcohol and violence prevention task force, noted that marijuana is a gateway drug and that the state legalizing it while fighting an opioid epidemic would be hypocritical.

“Nobody has answers,” Leahy said, “so it boggles the mind that we’re going to rush to pass this at the state level . . . without the answers.”

Other items of discussion centered around state aid for schools. Johnson urged Kaminsky and others to keep pushing for more funding for schools in Nassau County, which he said has 8 percent of the state’s students but receives just 4 percent of the funds.

In terms of standardized testing, Johnson implored elected representatives to support “adaptive and shorter” exams. When discussing making roads safer for students crossing streets like Sunrise Highway, Lincoln Avenue and Merrick Road on road, Gaylor recommended for the school district to contact the village and county about possibly implementing speed cameras.

The meeting came two days after a budget work session, and Johnson asked county legislators about clarity on calculating taxes for the Rockville Centre School District’s taxpayers. Kopel said that he expects to see a record number of assessment grievances, and that it’s hard to tell at this point.

“I really can’t answer your question,” Kopel said. “When people call up and they’re upset and need an explanation, send them my way.”