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Tempers flare at Glen Cove Board of Education meeting

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Upwards of 50 people attended the March 13 meeting of the Glen Cove Board of Education, the first since the proposed $84.6 million school bond failed. The library at Finley Middle School was so crowded that not enough seats were available for all of the residents, some of whom stood in the back during the entire two-and-a-half hours of the meeting.

The beginning of the meeting held nothing unusual. Finley Middle School English teacher Rebecca Carfora was recognized for achieving a special certification. District science coordinator Alexa Doeschner detailed new science programs and activities that are being conducted in each school. Victoria Galante, assistant superintendent of business, presented an update on the 2019-20 budget. And Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna shared the details of her recent trip to Albany. But once public participation began, the entire atmosphere changed.

Lia DiPaola Leone, a mother of two Glen Cove students, was the first to take the podium. “I’m heartbroken and I’m numb about yesterday’s results,” she said. “I’m saddened that many people feel the repairs and the safety of our children [aren’t] worth $36 a month.”

Leone went on to ask about the next steps toward fixing the schools, as well as to question the efforts the board put forth to get the bond passed. “Each one of you should have worked to get your ‘yes’ votes to the polls like you worked to get the ‘yes’ votes to be sitting there.”

In response, Board President Gail Nedbor-Gross read a statement in which she thanked all who came out to vote, as well as the bond committee. She also said that the failure of the bond would not stop the board from working toward fixing the district’s schools.

“Although the bond didn’t pass,” she said, “there is still work that is needed in our schools beyond what can be included in our annual budget. This board will work together to develop plans that both address the needs and various funding options to minimize the cost to our residents.”

Nedbor-Gross also said that members of the Board of Education are not legally allowed to promote the bond leading up to the vote. The board must adhere to legal restrictions regarding the number of days before they can move forward with any sort of future votes, she said. Rianna later indicated that the minimum amount of time between the resolution and a new vote is 45 days.

The answer was not enough to satisfy resident Janet Blatt. A vocal supporter of the bond in the weeks before the vote, she said that the board could have done something in support of the bond, despite the legal regulations.

“At least one of you has to be clever enough to understand the mindset in this city and find the way around that,” Blatt said, “which means you don’t stand on a soap box and talk, but you make sure the people around here do. People who voted for each of you could have been convinced if the right words were used.”

Two days after the meeting, Blatt clarified her statement, saying that the board did not need to break the law in order to advocate for the bond and that she believes board members lacked the cleverness to figure out how. She also described such regulations as “asinine” and was unsure of their validity.

Regardless, Blatt said that she believes the bond was important enough to do everything possible to get it passed. “You need what you need and when it’s just and it’s right, you should stand up and say something,” she said.

After multiple other attendees further questioned the board on what the next steps would be, Rianna said that the board and the administration are actively troubleshooting the schools’ issues. She explained that the district would continue to look at immediate solutions to problems as they have in the past. However, she also acknowledged that such measures likely would not be as effective as the solutions suggested by the bond.

“You’re right, this is not a perfect condition,” Rianna said, “but we continue as a school district to try to do whatever we can and I personally do believe that [at the next board meeting] you will have an update with a more strategic plan that will allow us to move forward.”

Later on, board members expressed their feelings about the bond vote and some of the reasons they believed it failed. After announcing her disappointment in the vote’s result, Trustee Monica Alexandris-Miller said, “We’re elected officials, we should be held accountable. And while it’s not the job of the board to promote the bond, to tell people how to vote, it is the job of the board to look after the conditions of the schools and the make sure that the information and facts get out to the community and I don’t think we did a good enough job.”

There were 2,734 Glen Cove residents that voted on the bond, an amount that Trustee David Huggins said he considers far too small. Considering that there are approximately 3,000 children in the school district, he explained, there is no reason as to why more people did not vote.

“What we really have here is apathy, and that is really sad,” Huggins said.

Board Vice President Alexander Juarez also made his frustration apparent, expressing disappointment in the fact that the bond failed to pass despite his best efforts. He told residents that they were welcome to file FOIL requests for his emails so they could see that he had done all he could to get school improvement projects underway. However, Juaraz said, he is unhappy with the job that the board did during the weeks leading up to the vote, much like many in attendance.

Shortly thereafter, the board deemed it necessary to stop taking questions in order to allow the meeting to move forward. Most people left following this announcement. At approximately three hours long, this was the longest Board of Education meeting during the 2018-19 school year.

The next Board of Education meeting will be on March 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Landing Elementary School.