Education

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Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

New York State has issued a glowing report on the state of a local school district’s finances.

The Port Jefferson School District received a “spotless” report from the New York State Comptroller following an audit meant to examine if the school board properly managed its voucher payment system.

Audit vouchers are made on all school expenditures, where either the school board or a designated auditor looks at each claim to determine if each item complies with district policies and whether the amounts are necessary district expenditures before the cost is paid. The comptroller’s audit, which spanned from July 2016 to September 2017, stated Port Jeff’s claims audit process was “adequately designed and that it had been properly implemented.”

“This report reflects proper oversight by the board of education and the stringent controls put in place and carried out by our business office personnel,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “The carefully conducted examination and positive results are a testament to the district’s comprehensive policies and procedures for claims payments.”

The comptroller’s office reviewed one percent of all claims paid by the district during the span, which amounted to 60 general fund claims. These claims totaled close to $300,000, including $2,705 from 10 “extra-classroom activity” claims. The office determined Port Jeff’s system was working as intended, and that the school could support all of its expenditures.

Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the comptroller’s office, said while they don’t have specific numbers on how many schools have problems with their audit voucher systems, Port Jefferson has been more responsible than others.

“These types of audit results are not that common and, as noted in the final report, the district should be commended for their well-designed claims system,” Butry said.

The report said district officials created well working procedures to analyze extra-classroom activities such as clubs, where each has a treasurer and faculty advisor, and that payment orders were supported with fully signed invoices.

“Given that there were no negative findings indicates the district’s claims process has an overall well-designed system,” Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said in a statement. “As our district places a strong emphasis on ensuring tax dollars are spent effectively and efficiently, we are pleased with the outcome of this auditing process, as it reinforces from an external perspective.”

Sea Cadets Kerry Monaghan, Abby Fairchild and Olivia Wilcox arrive back to Mount Sinai Aug. 27. Photo by Alex Petroski

Nine days on the open seas traveling about 800 miles with complete strangers might sound like a punishment to most, but for six teenage young women it was a voyage that fostered personal growth and new friendships, and even blazed a trail for others.

On Aug. 18, six U.S. Naval Sea Cadets — all young women between 14 and 17 years old — set sail from Mount Sinai Harbor on a training voyage aimed at teaching them the rigors of seamanship and leadership. The Naval Sea Cadet Corps was founded in 1958 at the request of the U.S. Navy meant to serve as a youth development program for those interested in pursuing a future in the United States Armed Forces. The cadets were joined on the trip by three adults — officers of the East Moriches-based Theodore Roosevelt Division of the Sea Cadets Lt. Robert Garceau and Lt. j.g. Nereida Gonzalez, as well as Capt. Roger Noakes, whose personal vessel was used for the voyage, as it has been for similar training missions for the last four years. This voyage was unique in one specific way, however: it was the first time it was made with a crew of all female cadets, an idea brought to fruition thanks to one of them.

“I go to different divisions and speak to the cadets about the trainings, and so the chief came to me and said, ‘How come you don’t have an all-female [training journey]?’” said Garceau upon returning to Mount Sinai Yacht Club Aug. 27 following the excursion, referring to Chief Petty Officer Kerry Monaghan, 17, an Islip native who has been in the Sea Cadets program for four years. Garceau explained there were logistical concerns about the tight quarters on Noakes’ 38-foot sailboat — the Nada — and creating enough space for privacy for the female cadets and the male lieutenant and captain who would be on the trip. The lieutenant said he spoke to some of the women in his division, ran the request up the chain of command and eventually got the idea greenlit.

“I love the fact that she came to me and said something, brought it to my attention, and I discussed it with the captain and discussed it with cadets, my female cadets, to see who was interested,” he said. He and Noakes spent the nine days sleeping on the deck of the Nada, exposed to the elements, to ensure the cadets were given proper quarters. “It was rainy, wet, you’re out in the weather, but to make it happen that’s the sacrifices we had to do, and it was very well worth it. We will just expand it from here.”

Noakes, a South Setauket resident, has been offering up his personal vessel and time for this use as part of his nonprofit organization Sailing Nada Adventures, an initiative Garceau referred to as “beyond fantastic.” The Nada has its own interesting history, as it was built by author Nigel Calder, who was renowned as a sailing guru, according to Noakes. Noakes said he found the “missing” boat in Port Jefferson in 2010 with a different name, and through some research determined it was the Nada. After some restoration efforts, the vessel returned to the water to take students on voyages of discovery east from Mount Sinai and north to the Gulf of Maine.

“We wanted to use her for the betterment of anyone who encountered her,” he said of the boat. “We’re particularly focused on adolescent youth, to help build their confidence and take them into an environment which is something completely different than they probably have ever experienced before and show them that not only can they cope with them, but they can thrive.”

“We were just a group of girls who saw this training and we were like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that too,’ and why shouldn’t we? I think that would be great if some girl saw this and said, ‘Yeah I want to be a sailor, I want to join Sea Cadets.’”

— Kerry Monaghan

Mission accomplished, according to the cadets who were on board.

“Being out on this trip was truly an amazing experience, because you got to feel the rough seas, and you also got to feel the nice seas,” said Olivia Wilcox, 15, a Shoreham resident who has been in the program since February. “We got a lot of good lessons from really inspiring people.”

She said she joined the program because she hopes to attend college at either West Point or Annapolis military academies, and one day work in Army Intelligence. Although, she said during one of the five stops on the trip in Provincetown, Massachusetts, after visiting a U.S. Coast Guard Station, several of the cadets decided the Coast Guard might be the way to go.

The trip got off to an inauspicious start, with weather taking a turn for the worse early on, at one point sending the Nada in reverse due to headwinds and rough waves, according to Garceau, a Mount Sinai native who has since relocated to Pennsylvania.

“Right off the bat you’re supposed to be learning everything as we go, and this kind of put a damper on that because everybody was sick,” he said. “It made it difficult that way. They pushed through it, they wanted to continue, and we did.”

Erika Mattschull, 16, of East Northport, said she joined the Sea Cadets because she comes from a military family, making her fifth or sixth generation in her family to purse a life of military service. She reflected on what the all-female cadets trip might do to impact other girls like her.

“It would mean a lot to me if more people found out about the Sea Cadets, especially females, because then more trainings like this would probably open up, so it would really be good,” she said. “It was definitely a great experience, I’ll remember it forever.”

Monaghan, who celebrated her 17th birthday on the voyage, also reflected on the idea of serving as a role model for younger girls.

“I would be honored,” she said. “That’s crazy, I mean, we were just a group of girls who saw this training and we were like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that too,’ and why shouldn’t we? I think that would be great if some girl saw this and said, ‘Yeah I want to be a sailor, I want to join Sea Cadets.’”

Sea Cadets Erika Mattschull, Olivia Zhang and Natalie Puello arrive back to Mount Sinai Aug. 27. Photo by Alex Petroski

Mark Barden, a founder of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, presents violence prevention strategies to a room full of Suffolk lawmakers and school officials during an Aug. 16 event at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue as Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. looks on. Photo by Alex Petroski

On Dec. 14, 2012, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut left more than 20 people dead, mostly first-graders, shocking the world and changing it permanently. Much of that change can be attributed to the efforts of those who were most personally impacted by the tragic events of that day.

Parents from Sandy Hook were invited to St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue Aug. 16 by Suffolk County Sheriff’s office to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools to a room packed with Suffolk County school district superintendents, administrators and lawmakers.

Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization, was founded by parents including Mark Barden, a professional musician originally from Yonkers who had moved to Newtown in 2007 with his wife to raise their three kids. His son, Daniel, was seven years old  when he was killed during the tragedy.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life,” Barden said of his son.

He said Daniel was known for trying to connect with other kids he saw eating alone, for holding doors for strangers in public, and for picking up earthworms from the hot sidewalk and moving them to safety in the grass, among other instinctual acts of kindness he regularly displayed.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life.”

— Mark Barden

“That’s how I’ve chosen to honor his life is through this work,” Barden said.

Sandy Hook Promise’s approach to carrying out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths can be viewed as an extension of Daniel’s legacy of caring for those in need. Barden was joined Aug. 16 by two other members of the organization — Myra Leuci, national account manager, and Marykay Wishneski, national program coordinator — who detailed the initiatives the nonprofit pitches to school districts interested in improving their prevention strategies.

The four strategies , which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk.

Say Something is an anonymous reporting system that teaches kids how to recognize warning signs, especially on social media, and gives them an outlet to get adults involved. Start With Hello is a training program that teaches students how to be more inclusive and connected to peers. Safety Assessment & Intervention program is geared toward adults and aims to teach them how to identify, assess and respond to threats of violence or at-risk behavior prior to a situation developing. The Signs of Suicide program teaches people how to identify and intervene to get help for those displaying signs of depression or suicidal behavior. The nonprofit offers in-person training for each program, though Say Something and Start With Hello are available to be downloaded and self-led by interested districts.

Since assuming office in January, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he has made improving school safety and developing uniform, countywide approaches a top priority. Just a few weeks into his tenure, the country was rocked by the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a lone gunman.

“It’s an obligation that I feel I have as the Suffolk County Sheriff, to work with all of our partners, but I do feel I cannot stand on the sidelines and just watch,” Toulon said. “We really have to be proactive. Everyone from our police departments, our school administrators, everybody’s taking this banner on. Thankfully we’re all working together to really keep our communities and our children safe.”

Toulon has offered free safety assessments on a voluntary basis to interested districts. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has taken several steps  already to improve schools’ safety including starting an initiative that allows interested districts to grant access to in-school security cameras to the police department, and securing funds for a mobile phone application for municipal workers and school district employees that can be activated and used in the event of an active shooter situation to notify law enforcement. Bellone announced new initiatives to increase police patrols in school buildings, assign additional officers to the SCPD’s Homeland Security Section and establish a text tip line to report troubling activities this month.

“We are educators, so partnering with law enforcement and those with the skilled lens of how to best ensure the safety of our students has been paramount,” said Ken Bossert, president of Suffolk County Superintendents Association who leads Elwood school district. “So the focus and attention that law enforcement has paid on our schools is just greatly appreciated.”

Representatives from districts across the North Shore attended the informational forum and expressed interest in implementing some or all of what Sandy Hook Promise has to offer, including Huntington Superintendent James Polansky and Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents.”

— Kara Hahn

“A lot of what we heard today I’m going to roll out just informationally to my administrative staff,” Polansky said, adding Huntington has taken up Toulon on his offer to assess building safety already. “We’re actually looking to pursue a lot of the initiatives Sandy Hook Promise has to offer.”

Casciano expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a great resource, and we’re very interested in pursuing it,” he said. “We’ll be making our contacts.”

Several attendees commended Toulon for embracing a leadership role on school safety, including Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), who was among the wide array of lawmakers at the event along with the school officials.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who is a licensed social worker. She called Toulon’s approach incredibly important. “It shows that he has the recognition that when you have a shooter at the door of a school, it’s too late, and this really needs to be about prevention. We cannot police this, we need to prevent this. And that’s what this is about.”

Bossert said superintendents in the county have been working to put together a uniform blueprint for school safety and are planning to roll it out later this month. For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

Following air quality concerns, Northport school officials said the district plans to reopen the K-wing of Northport Middle School to students for the 2018-19 school year.

Over the summer recess, Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer confirmed the district has undertaken extensive renovations of the K-wing classrooms, including its ventilation systems. The building’s indoor air quality has raised concerns from district residents since the smell of gas fumes was reported in April 2017.

“Prior to the reopening of the school, the district plans to follow [New York State Department of Health’s] recommendation to retest the K-wing to ensure that there are no indoor air quality issues,” Banzer said.

The K-wing’s indoor air quality was last tested in March by the district’s environmental consulting firm, Hauppauge-based J.C. Broderick & Associates, according to the superintendent. The study’s results, which were shared with district residents in a letter dated March 19, stated the consultants had no concerns about mold growth, volatile organic compounds or carbon monoxide in any of the priority areas it reviewed. The consultants did raise medium, or moderate, concerns that some of the district’s ventilation systems were imbalanced in areas and in need of either repair or replacement.

Banzer said the district will continue to utilize the Tools for School program in the K-wing and throughout the district, which shows schools how to carry out a practical plan to resolve indoor air problems such as volatile organic compounds and mold “at little to no cost using straightforward
activities and in-house staff,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.

The district’s issues with indoor air quality in the K-wing first came to light when an earth science teacher reported smelling fumes in the classroom, and an investigation found the source to be a petroleum-based warehouse beneath the K-wing.

An initial July 2017 study by J.C. Broderick & Associates showed no hazardous concentration of chemicals in any of the air samples. However, four chemicals commonly linked to perfumes, natural rubber products, air conditioners and refrigerators, thermoplastics and latex paints were found in high concentrations — above the 95th percentile of allowable levels determined by the state — in the K-wing corridor, rooms 74 and 75. The consultant’s study was reported to the New York State Department of Health.

Facing widespread community concerns, a forum was held in August 2017, where the superintendent said the district officials had decided to close the Northport Middle School wing for the 2017-18 school year. The closure did not affect previously scheduled classes other than changing their locations, as students were readily accommodated by reallocating use of existing classrooms.

Rebecca Muroff, a 17-year-old Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, shows off the archive of historical photos she created for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Aug. 11. Photo by Alex Petroski

A piece of history has been organized and preserved thanks to the hard work of a Mount Sinai teen.

Girl Scouts looking to achieve their Gold Award, the highest honor a scout can earn, are tasked with identifying an issue in their community, conducting research, pitching a project, and shepherding it to completion in a leadership role in the hopes of achieving some greater good for the community. Rebecca Muroff, a Mount Sinai High School student heading into her senior year, stood at the William Miller House, the headquarters of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society on North Country Road in Miller Place, Aug. 11 and shared the byproduct of months of hard work as the culmination of her Gold Award project.

Muroff and her family have long enjoyed events held by the historical society, from the annual Country Fair to the local Christmas tradition of passing letters to Santa off to Postman Pete, so exploring a project to help an organization close to her heart was a no-brainer, she said. The Gold Award recipient, beginning in October 2017, sifted through the historical society’s vast collection of old photos amassed since its inception in 1974 to create a pictorial archive, labeling the photos with numbers and a corresponding destination in a spreadsheet, including categories like location, date, names of the people in the photo and any other pertinent comments. The result is a detailed catalog available to visitors who can now quickly and easily find photos of specific people or events dating back decades. Muroff said plans are even in the works to digitize the archive in some manner.

From left, Troop 1090 leaders Tara Broome and Gretchen Lynch join Muroff’s parent Greg and Christine, right and third from right, as well as Edna Giffen of the society, second from right, in honoring the latest Gold Award recipient. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It shows people as we matured over the years and there are a lot of people — members — that, because we were founded in ’74, have passed or moved away,” said Edna Giffen, the society’s recording secretary and archivist, who Muroff said played a crucial role in working on the project. “I realized there are people in the pictures that I don’t even know. Members will be glad to see this.”

Muroff said she always liked going to events at the society as a kid and reflected on the idea that she’d created something that will enrich visits by future generations.

“It’s just nice I think to have tangible memories of the historical society,” she said. “Now people can look through the pictures and people can see themselves or their family members. It’s a nice feeling to know that I’m preserving history so other people can enjoy it.”

Tara Broome and Gretchen Lynch, Muroff’s leaders in Girl Scout Troop 1090, attended the Aug. 11 event set up to unveil the new photo archive.

“It’s really beautiful because we started with the whole troop when they were in second grade and now they’re seniors in high school,” Broome said.

Lynch added the troop had about 20 members when the girls were young, and Muroff was one of only five to earn the Gold Award.

“We’re almost like second mothers to them really,” she said. “They really persevered and did everything that was asked of them, and they’re like a family now.”

Muroff’s actual parents, Christine and Greg, also beamed with pride over their daughter’s accomplishment.

“It really hit me yesterday when we went to the Girl Scouts store to complete her sash,” her mom said. “I’m so happy she stuck with it.”

Trustee Mike Riggio, above on right, is congratulated by current board of ed president Lynn Capobianco after it was announced he won his second term this year. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Mount Sinai’s school board is a member short following a surprise resignation.

Three-year member of the Mount Sinai School District board of education Michael Riggio vacated his seat before the start of the new school year saying he had a sudden “golden opportunity” to work in Florida.

“I did not want to leave the Mount Sinai board of education, but It was a very good career opportunity that took my family and I down to Florida,” Riggio said.

Riggio, a 12-year resident of Mount Sinai, ran for his second term unopposed and had just been reelected to another three-year term on the board in May. The retired officer from the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit served as vice president on the board during the 2017-18 school year and was a big proponent of the district’s eventual move to hire armed security guards in the district.

Riggio communicated to the district July 27 he would be resigning from his position effective August 5, according to district clerk Maureen Poerio.

While he said he didn’t wish to disappoint the school, the opportunity came suddenly. The job is in the law enforcement field, but he declined to reveal exact specifics about the job.

“It’s not fair to the board or the community for me to fly in once a month for a meeting,” Riggio said. “I might not be able to make it if work is too crazy, so I couldn’t take the spot.”

The school board will consider persons for appointment to the vacated seat, and the district is seeking letters of interest for anyone in the community who wishes to apply. The board will decide on the candidate at its Sept. 26 board meeting, and that person will serve until May 2019 when they will run for election for the right to finish out the rest of the term vacated by Riggio.

Candidates need only to be a qualified voter of the district, a resident of the district for at least one year and may not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai is looking for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate.

The board currently has six members, one short of its usual seven filled seats.

Interested candidates can send letters addressed to Mount Sinai Board of Education c/o Maureen Poerio, District Clerk, 118 North Country Road Mount Sinai, New York 11766, or emailed to mpoerio@mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Submissions will be accepted through Sept. 14 at 3 p.m.

This post has been amended to reflect actual date of next board meeting.

Nikola Tesla, depicted in statue at top, was a Serbian-American inventor who had a lab built in Shoreham, where the statue sits. Photo by Kyle Barr

Centuries of scientific experimentation and exploration will be preserved in Shoreham.

Concluding months of nail-biting anticipation, the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham, made famous as the last standing laboratory of famous 19th- and 20th-century scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, finally made it onto the U.S. National Register of Historic Places July 27.

The designation is the culmination of hard work by the nonprofit Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe to get the site listed on local, state and national lists of historic places.

Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, said the site landing on these historic registers helps to guarantee that the property will survive through future generations.

“Listing on the National Historic Register not only helps preserve Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory, but it allows us to move forward with renovations and plans to develop Wardenclyffe into a world class science and innovation center,” Alessi said. “[The] listing also opens doors for funding, as many grants require official historic status.”

Members of Tesla Science Center spent close to a year gathering data on the historic nature of the site located along Route 25A in Shoreham. They hired a historic architecture consultant to document which parts of the 16-acre property were historical and which were not.

The property was considered for historical site status by the New York State Historic Preservation Office June 7 after receiving 9,500 letters of support from people all over the world. The property passed that decision with a unanimous vote of approval, and it was then sent to the National Park Service for a decision to place the property on the national register.

“We hope that this will remind people of the importance of Tesla and his work at Wardenclyffe,” Tesla center President Jane Alcorn said.

The Shoreham property was home of one of Tesla’s last and most ambitious projects of his career. His plan was to build a tower that could, in theory, project electricity through the ground as a way of offering free energy to everyone in the area. Creditors seized upon his property after it was learned there would be limited ways of monetizing the project.

Tesla spent his remaining years for the most part in solitude and obscurity until his death in 1943. Recent decades have shown a resurgence of interest in Tesla for his groundbreaking technologies such as the Tesla Coil, a 19th-century invention used to produce high-voltage alternating-current electricity, and Alternating Current which is used in most electronics today.

In 2012 the science center worked with The Oatmeal comic website to launch a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised $1.37 million to purchase the land. Since then the nonprofit has renovated the property with plans to turn the site into a museum and incubator for technology-based business startups.

Port Jefferson School District’s new athletic director, Adam Sherrard. Photo from PJSD

Port Jefferson School District’s athletic programs have excelled in recent years, but the Royals faced a new kind of challenge this summer.

Adam Sherrard has been named the replacement for Port Jeff’s outgoing director of health, physical education and athletics, Danielle Turner, who accepted a similar position in the Locust Valley school district in June.

Sherrard, a Farmingville resident, has coaching and teaching experience from previous stops at Huntington and Smithtown school districts, where he taught physical education at all grade levels. Most recently he taught at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet Intermediate School in the Huntington district. He served as Smithtown East High School’s defensive coordinator for the varsity football team and as a middle school lacrosse head coach, in addition to other high school and middle school coaching assignments, according to his LinkedIn page.

“I’m eager to work with the students, staff, nurses, administrators, coaches and parents in the district,” Sherrard said in a statement. “Since I first arrived here, I noticed the commitment to the well-being of students is profound and I look forward to continuing to strengthen the positive environment in the Port Jefferson School District.”

He earned an advanced graduate certificate in educational leadership from Stony Brook University and a Master of Arts in educational leadership and administration from Touro University International, according to a district press release. He holds a Bachelor of Science in physical education from Cortland University.

“The energy and enthusiasm that Mr. Sherrard exudes will serve our district well,” district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in a statement. “We look forward to his leadership and progressive ideas in building on the many successes of our athletic program. Mr. Sherrard will continue to move us in the positive direction of our physical education and health education programs. This includes social and emotional growth opportunities to ensure our students have the support systems needed to succeed.”

During Turner’s time with the Royals, the girls varsity basketball and soccer teams each reached New York State championship rounds, with the soccer team bringing home its second straight trophy in 2016. It was the team’s third straight appearance in the finals. The basketball team fell just short in the 2017 state title game, though it was the first time it had won a county crown since 1927. Quarterback Jack Collins broke numerous school records and became the first football player in school history to be named League IV Most Valuable Player. The wrestling team went undefeated and won the League VIII championship during the current school year. Shane DeVincenzo put Port Jeff’s golf program on the map, winning the Suffolk County individual title in 2017.

“Port Jefferson will always have a special little place in my heart, and I could not be more thankful that my career has led me through it,” she said in a June email.

School district releases 80-page report alleging disclosure of confidential information, inappropriate actions

Commack School District's board of education at the start of the 2017-18 school year. Photo from Facebook

A Commack schoolboard  trustee has resigned her seat after the district launched a four-month investigation into her actions.

Pamela Verity submitted a letter of resignation to Commack School District effective July 31, which was unanimously accepted at an Aug. 1 special board of education meeting. She had been the subject of a special investigation for allegedly disclosing confidential information privy to her as a board trustee and removing school district property from Marion Carll Farm.

As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information…”

— Jarrett Behar

“As members of the board of education, we essentially trade in confidential information:  confidential information about our children, confidential information about our employees,”  Jarrett Behar, vice president of Commack’s school board, said. “We cannot get to a point where we decide that the ends justify the means. There are rules in place that need to be followed and we have a duty to follow them.”

On April 24, Commack’s board voted 3-to-2 to hire attorney Jeffery Smith to undertake an independent investigation of Verity based on accusations she had disclosed confidential information on multiple occasions and taken actions that were an inappropriate use of her authority.

The school district released Smith’s 80-page report Aug. 2, following Verity’s resignation, that details his interviews with 10 individuals — all board of education members, Superintendent Donald James and four school employees — between May 2 and 18.

“This investigation was spurred by posting of confidential information on Facebook,” reads page 3 of the report.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes.”

— Pamela Verity

In his investigation, Smith said it was alleged that Verity disclosed details of a confidential personnel matter regarding harassment in the workplace on social media. The investigator said the content indicated the board member had been emailing about, texting about it and expressed her opinion in violation of both state law and district policies.

Verity said she admitted to having inadvertently made a public Facebook post on the subject while multitasking but denied it contained detailed information such as specific names.

“I made mistakes, I definitely made mistakes,” she said, but denied her actions were intentional or as malicious in intent as she felt was implied.

The report also critically examined conversations Verity had with district employees where alleged confidential information was disclosed or where her actions were considered inappropriate conduct of a trustee, according to the district.

“I wear my board hat all the time, I don’t have any First Amendment rights anymore?” she said. “If it was up to them I would not be allowed to post [on social media], I would not be allowed to support people.”

If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened.”

— Page 19 of investigative report

Verity said as an educational advocate with the Opt Out movement prior to joining the board, she consulted with other school trustees and lawyers for advice on handling situations and how to handle confidential matters. The Commack district, she asserted, has a much stricter definition of what qualifies as confidential information than state law requires or surrounding districts’ policies. 

Commack school officials also said Verity removed documents from Marion Carll Farm without permission. The former board member said she did pack up and take home documents while working on a fundraiser for the site for safekeeping. All were returned to the district, according to Verity. The district admitted to receiving a box of paperwork but says it did not receive a full inventory list of all items removed from the farmhouse as per its request.

“If some of these actions were genuine mistakes, they would have merited an apology and a commitment that they would not be repeated and that hasn’t happened,” Smith wrote on page 19 of the report.

Verity said she doesn’t want to spend her time and energy defending herself from accusations but would rather move forward.

“I thought at first maybe if I speak my truth, this will turn around. It didn’t,” she said. “[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

Community members at the Aug. 1 special meeting questioned how much the four-month investigation had cost the district given the independent investigator was hired at $150 an hour. The total bill was not yet available, according to Behar.

[The report] doesn’t reflect both sides at all, not at all.”

— Pamela Verity

“This procedure and process obviously did come at a cost and we do not take any endeavor where we spend taxpayer money lightly,” he said.

The district has three legal options when it comes to addressing Verity’s seat on the board of education, according to school district attorney Eugene Barnosky. The board’s choices include holding a special election to fill the vacancy within 90 days, appointing an individual to serve or leaving the seat unfilled. Verity was in her second year of a three-year term, due up for re-election in May 2019.

Behar said no decision had been made yet on how best to proceed.

“What happened today is very new,” he said. “We will make a decision, whatever decision we make will be made public. The community is always welcome to give its input.”

Verity said she hopes to continue lobbying for curriculum changes as part of the Opt Out movement against increased state testing and the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

File photo

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) will be collecting school supplies at her office, located at 306 Main St. in Port Jefferson, the Port Jefferson Free Library, Comsewogue Public Library and Emma S. Clark Memorial Library through Aug. 14.

Coordinators of the drive are looking for notebooks, loose leaf paper, three-ring binders, pens, pencils, markers, crayons, colored pencils, calculators, rulers, backpacks, scissors and erasers.

Supplies will be distributed during the 11th annual Stand up for the Homeless event hosted by the Suffolk County Department of Social Services Aug. 29.

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