F.U.S.E. News & Updates May 12, 2014

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It’s this Thursday: The Annual FUSE Party

The annual Fuse Party is Thursday, May 15 at Beckwith Pointe. All FUSE members are welcome to this annual opportunity to relax with friends and see colleagues from around the district. The event – which includes music, food and drink -- begins at 4:00. See you there!

NYSUT 5K “Race for Solidarity”

The second annual NYSUT 5K “Race for Solidarity” was held on Saturday, May 10 at FDR Park in Yorktown. Twelve members of the FUSE ran the race with 200 other NYSUT members from locals throughout the Westchester/Putnam/Rockland area. The event was organized by NYSUT’s Hudson Valley United organization, led by the local presidents of Yorktown, Hastings-on-Hudson and Carmel NYSUT. Like last year, the event was run flawlessly – the true sign that many hours of organization and planning had paid off!
Preliminary reports indicate that the race raised over $3,500 for NYSUT’s disaster relief fund.

FUSE runners did very well in the race – For the second year in a row, the first runner to complete the course was Tim Kuklis, (NRHS), who ran the race in just over 18 minutes! Other FUSE members earning medals Saturday were Rob Dawson (ALMS) Laurie Ruhl (City Hall) and Lyda Martinelli (ALMS/IEYMS). All of the FUSE participants contributed to our winning the first place team score with an average of 20:41.

For pictures of the race go to the Hudson Valley United website (hudsonvalleyunited.org), or cut and paste this link into your browser: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.509750935813859.1073741839.326...

Food Drive a Success

The third annual FUSE Food Drive led by Vice President Billy Coleman was a great success. FUSE members set up tables outside of Stop & Shop and Shoprite to collect food to distribute to local food banks. At least a dozen members volunteered to staff the tables and ask shoppers to make a contribution to help families in our community who are in need of assistance. The response of shoppers was beyond generous and the Food Drive netted many boxes of food that were donated the Shiloh Baptist Church and the New Rochelle Community Action Program. Thanks to Billy for organizing this event and to the members of our union who gave up their Saturday afternoon to help those in need!

FUSE Elections

The election for the Vice-President/School Related Professionals will be held on Thursday, May 22. SRP members only will vote by secret ballot in their buildings/worksites.

The two candidates are incumbent Vice President Billy Coleman from IEYMS and Mike Tozzo from Barnard School.

The successful candidate will serve a three year term beginning June 1, 2014 and ending on May 31, 2017.

All SRP members should have received a memo with information about the election. The candidates have been invited to submit a written statement to be included in next week’s updates in order to help members outlining their qualifications, their goals if elected and any other information that they believe members might need in order to support their candidacy.

FUSE Buildings Representatives Selected in May

Each year, members in every building are given the opportunity to select colleagues who will serve as the building’s FUSE representatives for the upcoming year.

Members who are currently building representatives will be communicating in the next week or so with members in their buildings, soliciting volunteers to serve as the 2014-2015 representatives. The new representatives will begin their term on June 1, 2013. Building committees which have a mix of long time members and newer additions to the committee are often the most effective teams.

According to the FUSE Constitution, the maximum allotment of representatives is one representative for every 17 members assigned to a building. If there are more interested members than allotted positions, the current building committee will hold an election to determine the building representatives for the next year.

All FUSE members are eligible to serve as building representatives. Every effort should be made, when selecting a building committee, to insure that it is representative of both pedagogic and SRP members.

The building representatives have and important and multi-faceted role to play in their buildings and in the union. They work with building administrators to resolve disputes or potential grievances. They act as a liaison between members in their buildings and the building’s administration and may be called on to provide union representation for members at meetings with administration.

Building representatives are in frequent communication with the union’s leadership, to solve problems to seek information or support and to communicate union news to their colleagues. Every month the building representatives from every building meet together with the union’s leadership to make decisions about union policy and to learn of events and issues affecting staff throughout the district.

Superintendent Search Update

Last week Board President David Lacher informed the community that the Board of Education has identified a final candidate for our next Superintendent. He added that “the candidate meets the District’s high expectations and reflects the community’s desire for an educator with vision, a high degree of fiscal responsibility, and an intimate appreciation of the challenges and strengths of a diverse community. I also can tell you that this exceptional applicant has the unanimous backing of the entire Board.”

However, the Board is not ready to announce the name of the candidate until the Board has had the opportunity to conduct a site visit to the candidate’s current district; complete a thorough review of employment references and the mandatory New York State criminal background check; and come to an agreement on contract terms.

It is hoped that all of that will take place in the next few weeks, and the new Superintendent will be presented to the community well before the conclusion of the current school year.

Contract Negotiations

Once again, there is no news to report on this topic. Contract talks are still “on hold” since we returned from the Spring Break. It is the union’s hope that we will be able to resume regularly scheduled meetings with the district’s negotiations team as soon as possible in order to have an agreement for our members to consider prior to the close of the school year. The clock however, is ticking!

School Board News

It was another rough and tumble night at the Board of Education meeting last week!

The Board of Education met Tuesday, May 6 at New Rochelle High School. There were actually three separate meetings that evening, held one after the other: the first, was a “Committee of the Whole” meeting wherein the Board members reviewed resolutions to be voted on and heard a presentation on college acceptance news for the NRHS class of 2014. The next was a “Regular Meeting” of the Board and the third was the annual “Public Hearing on the Proposed Budget.” All of the Board members, except Ms. Orellana, were present at the meeting.

Committee of the Whole Meeting

At the Committee of the Whole meeting, Board member Jeffrey Hastie made two procedural motions to add items to the agenda of the Regular Meeting. Both items he wished to add to the agenda concerned Board President Lacher’s failure to pay the premiums for his health insurance on time for a period of months in 2013 and earlier in 2014.

Mr. Hastie made a motion to add to the agenda a motion directing the Board clerk to request that the Education Commissioner initiate an investigation in the alleged financial improprieties of Mr. Lacher’s inability to pay is premiums, and his second motion was to suspend Mr. Lacher from his role as President of the Board pending the outcome of the Commissioner’s investigation into the situation.

After some confusion regarding the exact nature of the motions, the Board passed both of Mr. Hastie’s motions and the items were then added to the agenda of the next meeting of the evening – the Regular Meeting of the Board of Education.
Regular Meeting

The regular meeting of the Board proceeded normally, with several people speaking during the “public comment” part of the meeting, and the Board passing a slew of resolutions regarding personnel, CSE placements and tax certiorari and other routine business. Following that, the real action began and once more, the Board meeting became a “bumpy night.”

Motion to Request an SED Investigation

Mr. Hastie then made the motion to direct the Clerk and Secretary of the Board to request, on behalf of the Board of Education, that the Commissioner of Education initiate a formal investigation in to the appearance of financial improprieties raised by the Board President’s past inability to pay his health insurance premiums in a timely manner.

The motioned was seconded by Mrs. Brickel, who stressed that her vote was not a vote against the Board President, but that she felt the Board needed accurate information that only an investigation by a respected and impartial third party could provide. Mr. Lacher recused himself from the discussion and voting on this matter.

At this point in the discussion on the motion, Mrs. Petrone raised concerns about Mr. Hastie’s motives in seeking the investigation and asserted that she would like an investigation by the Commissioner into improprieties on the part of Mr. Hastie, particularly as applied to maintaining confidentiality and respecting the private nature of discussions in Executive Sessions of the Board. Mr. Hastie, she said, has admitted forwarding internal emails and confidential information to others in the community in violation of Board ethics and the Commissioner’s Regulations on Executive Session.

Mrs. Petrone’s comments were ruled out of order since they were not addressing the motion before the Board.

This motion failed, with only Mr. Hastie and Mrs. Brickel voting “yes.”

Motion to Remove Mr. Lacher as President

Given the failure of the first motion, Mr. Hastie amended the second motion he had added to the agenda seeking a suspension of Mr. Lacher as Board President. His new motion called for the Board to replace Mr. Lacher as President immediately and to elect a new President within 30 days. No other Board member would “second” this motion, and thus it failed.

At this point, the meeting took a turn. . .

Following the failure of Mr. Hastie’s motion to garner a “second,” Mrs. Polow spoke first. She began by saying emphatically that she did not excuse the lack of judgment Mr. Lacher showed in allowing his insurance payments to go unpaid for several months, and she was grateful that the past premiums have all been paid and he is current on the account. She urged stricter oversight and adherence to existing policies to make sure that the situation can re-occur.

However, Mrs. Polow then went on to excoriate Mr. Hastie for his alleged improprieties as a Board member, particularly in his disregard for Executive Session and his unilateral decisions to breach confidentiality in an effort to further his own agendas in the community. She added that she has never, in her over 25 years as a Board member, ever spoken against a fellow Board member at a public meeting, but she could no longer stay silent as she watched Mr. Hastie’s antagonistic behavior impair the Board’s ability to function and distract the Board form the important work that it has to do on behalf of the schools.

Echoing these sentiments were Mrs. Relkin, who accused Mr. Hastie of walking out of the Board Retreat when an official of the School Boards Association was making a presentation to the Board about confidentiality and Commissioner’s Regulations governing school board members and “executive session.” Mr. Hastie denied “walking out” saying that he had to leave for previous engagement and had informed the Board of such. Mrs. Relkin would not relent, saying that was absolutely untrue and that Mr. Hastie had “walked the hall” until the presentation was over and then returned to the meeting room.

Mrs. Petrone echoed the comments she made earlier regarding Mr. Hastie’s admitted breaches of confidentiality as being worthy of an investigation by the SED. Dr. Pamela Davis, newest member of the Board, agreed that Mr. Hastie’s actions were improper and deserving of an investigation. Mrs. Brickel added that she agreed with all of the comments other Board members has made about Mr. Hastie.

The Board members who spoke all claimed that Mr. Hastie has undermined the ability of the Board to work as a cohesive group due to his decision to unilaterally release privileged information and confidential emails to members of the community – at least once even after the information has been deemed not to be subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law. (FOIL) Without excusing Mr. Lacher’s conduct at all, it was nonetheless clear that the majority of the Board thought it was Mr. Hastie’s actions, not Mr. Lacher’s, which had a more deleterious effect on the ability of the Board to effectively function as the school
district’s governing body.

Public Hearing on the Budget

After the “Regular Meeting” was adjourned, the public hearing on the proposed budget began. Before members of the public spoke on the budget, Dr. Korostoff made a statement in which he called the proposed spending plan as an “even better budget” as a result of the additional revenue provided to our school district when the final State Budget was approved in Albany last month.
Dr. Korostoff said “we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our local state legislators, who prevailed in the political budget battles and secured for New Rochelle both an increase in our General State Aid allocation and a meaningful level of restoration of funds withheld by the State as part of their Gap Elimination Adjustment to meet their own revenue shortfall. The public should know that these additional dollars were almost entirely directed into the classroom, so that we will be able to honor our commitments toward maintaining programs and preserving favorable class size.”

Dr. Korostoff also acknowledged that, in the past few months, the school district has become aware of “troubling irregularities in our business-side operations, which have come to our attention. A number of these concerns and issues have been raised by members of the public.” He asserted that some corrective measures have already been put into place and that the district has already changed the way it does business. He advocated a five year plan for facilities maintenance and repairs, and greater oversight to see that important policies and procedures are re-examined, clarified and faithfully adhered to in our Business Office.

He expressed support for improved inventory controls and an increased level of overall accountability needs to be raised so that the school district can withstand any kind of scrutiny. Finally, he promised that “all credible reports of employee misconduct will be fully investigated and appropriate action taken. Our school community expects and deserves no less.”

Following Dr. Korostoff’s statement, members of the public spoke. With few exceptions, members of the community supported the proposed spending plan. Robert Cox and Anna Giodarno, two frequent speakers at Board meetings who have urged greater oversight and accountability of district finances, expressed gratitude to Dr. Korostoff for his efforts, and cautious optimism in hearing his assurances that the district is responding to their concerns about how taxpayer money is spent.

Other speakers, while supporting the budget and praising the educational program the school district offers, voiced dismay at the dysfunction and disarray apparent moments earlier during the “Regular Meeting” of the Board. They urged to Board to find a way to work together – even when they disagree with one another – that that doesn’t undermine the public’s confidence in their ability to effectively manage the school district.

The public will vote on the proposed school budget on May 20. They will also elect two members of the Board of Education on that day as well. The candidates are incumbent Board member Jeffrey Hastie, Dr. Sal Fernandez and Rick Monzon. The two candidates with the highest number of votes will be elected to a five year term.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be on Wednesday, May 21, after the Board Election and School Budget Vote.

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