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Meeting News

April 24 & May 2, 2001

School Board Hides Salary Increases

The three district superintendents, Mary Bediako, Anthony Ciaglia, and Kishore Kuncham listen as their secret raises are revealed.

by Stewart Lilker

Budget night began with a presentation of the proposed Freeport Memorial Library budget by Library Director Dave Optow. Mr. Optow explained that the budget increase was 5% over the previous year. In response to questioning, Mr. Optow explained that the library budget document always includes the actual prior yearís budget as approved by the voters. In this way the voters can compare what they actually voted for to what was spent.

Following the library presentation, the assistant superintendent of business, Kishore Kuncham, gave an informed presentation of the Freeport School budget. After Kuncham completed his presentation, long time Freeport resident Alan Jay, urged the Board to demand more productivity from the teachers, saying, "You canít keep paying more and more for less and less. We keep giving more sick time for people who arenít sick, so when they cash in and retire they clobber the taxpayers, itís a windfall. Itís getting beyond economic sense and it canít be sustained."

When Ellerbe informed Mr. Jay that his time was up, Jay protested. "Thatís only when you have people here. Thereís nobody here." Ellerbe said, "What do you think youíre looking at." Jay responded, "You people need an education. You didnít get enough."

Ellerbe shot back, "You keep us after school." Jay replied, "It will be my pleasure. Weíll have a class after the Board meeting on economic reality, not just theory."

Only Eight Residents Showed Up.

Your reporter was next up to the microphone. FreeportNYNews.com (FNYN) pointed out that this was not just a routine budget meeting, as Ellerbe announced at the beginning of the evening, but the annual Public Budget Hearing. Mr. Jay said, "This is a public hearing and is not subject to the six minute [rule]."

FNYN asked Ellerbe if the Public Budget Hearing was an important event in the school year? Ellerbe caustically answered, "You could say that."

FNYN asked, "Do you think it is important that the public attend the Public Budget Hearing?" Ellerbe responded, "Absolutely."

FNYN continued, "Can you tell me what you have done to advise all the residents of the district that this Public Budget Hearing was going on tonight?"

Ellerbe said, "Itís on the calendar. Itís on the web site. Itís been distributed in all the schools." None of the community residents FNYN questioned prior to attending the meeting knew of this budget hearing.

When FNYN showed Ellerbe and the Board the front page of the school district web site, which was completely devoid of any mention of the Public Budget Hearing, Ellerbe could only say, "Did you look at the calendar?" The rest of the Board remained silent.

FNYN said, "This is an extraordinary event. We only have this once a year." Ellerbe interjected, "Of course."

FNYN continued, "Donít you think that it would be important to put that right on the front page [of the web site]?" Ellerbe responded, "Thatís another opinion."

The Freeport School District has over seven-thousand students. There were only eight residents attending this public hearing.

Not The Real Numbers ē If it's a draft, it's a draft -- maybe

The week before, at the April 24th Board meeting, the Board approved the school budget for the 2001-2002 school year. At that time, unprepared as usual, Board President Ellerbe didnít know on what version of the budget he was voting. Indeed, Ellerbe didnít even have a copy of the budget with him.

FNYN continued addressing Ellerbe. "Tonightís budget that you handed out says draft. Thatís not really the draft budget, is it? Thatís the approved budget?"

Ellerbe confidently answered, "If it states draft, itís a draft." President Ellerbe turned to assistant superintendent of Business, Kishore Kuncham, "Itís a draft?" Kuncham said, "The Board has adopted this." Also coming to Ellerbeís rescue was Superintendent Nydick, "The Board adopted this at the last meeting."

Your reporter referred to the earlier remarks regarding the presentation of the library budget and the fact it is an honest budget, noting that it includes last yearís actual numbers, as approved by the public.

Your reporter, who is also a resident, said, "I really think that it is a disservice to the public that you donít provide the actual budget [numbers] that were approved in the prior year. I would like to know why you donít do that and when it was that you stopped doing that?"

Board Hides Superintends' Raises.

Kuncham replied, "This is the procedure that the district has been following. We cannot compare them because the library budget is being done that way. We are really talking about a major corporation here. One corporation with a $3,500,000 budget and another corporation with a $91,700,000 budget. There are things that will happen during the year that can be reflected properly. This is a procedure that we have followed. The history, I do not know. This is the procedure we have been following for the past many years. The bottom line number of the budget has not been changed."

FNYN responded, "This hasnít been going on for many years. It only changed in the 99/2000 year budget. As recently as 98/99, the actual figures were given. It changed after that. It changed very recently. My question really is to the Board of Education. The Board of Education changed it. You went so far this year, as to include a revised budget line and not call it revised. I would like to know Mr. Ellerbe, ĎHow are the folks supposed to trust what this Board of Education says, when you donít even give them the real numbers and you refuse to give them the raises that the Assistant Superintendents got?í"

The 2001/2002 budget document claims that the Assistant Superintendent for Business, Kishore Kuncham, will earn $121,000 for the upcoming year, the same amount claimed in the prior year, 2000/2001. The truth is Kuncham earned $113,000 in the prior year, giving him an undocumented 7% pay raise.

Similarly, the Assistant Superintendent for Personnel, Mary Bediako, according to the 2001/2002 budget appeared to received no increase from the preceding year, when in fact, she received a $13,500 pay raise, representing an undocumented 14% increase.

Finally, the story is the same for the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Anthony Ciaglia, whose pay rose from $102,250  to $114,250, representing and undocumented increase of 11.7%

Ellerbe responded, "If I would respond the way you would like, it would mean that I agree with you on hypothesis. Mr. Kuncham answered your question and the Board stands by that response."

Your reporter said, "Iím asking you. How are the people supposed to trust this Board of Education, when you wonít tell the people the actual numbers?"

Ellerbe said, "My position is I disagree with you. I think the community does trust this Board."

Your reporter continued, "I am sorry that the rest of the Board has lost their vocal chords. Apparently, the whole Board agrees with this presentation and the way the budgets are done. To hide salary increases from the public is wrong. The simple fact is the public has a right to know what increases the people we pay with our tax dollars get. That should be a matter of public record that is clearly discernible. You have hidden those numbers from the public. Quite frankly Mr. Ellerbe, no matter what you say, thatís wrong. Thank you."

Ellerbe responded, "You are misrepresenting the facts, as you usually do. No one is hiding anything."

Your reporter concluded, "Mr. Ellerbe, I suggest you look at your own budget. Iím done. Thank you."

Superintendent Nydick added, "Iíd like to point out that when the question was asked last week [April 24th], I responded with the salaries of the people in the central office, so weíre not hiding anything."

The April 24th Board Meeting ē What a Mess

A look at the April 24th Board meeting reveals that this is not exactly what happened.

During the meeting of the twenty-fourth, your reporter questioned the Board about the disappearance of the actual approved budget amounts of the three assistant superintendents. Ellerbe referred the matter to Kuncham. In spite of the fact that there was no indication in the budget that the figures in question had been revised, Kuncham said, thatís the way itís done and there is nothing wrong with it.

Even though the district was not on austerity, Superintendent Nydick wrongly characterized the raises of the three assistant superintendents as "contingent" expenses. Nydick said, "Mr. Lilker, I think you ought to be aware, since you are very well up to date on how the laws are, that a contingent item may be added after. These amounts were given for merit and then added to the budget and it is very appropriate and very legal. The Commissioner has ruled on it and you know it."

This does not appear to be the case.

The NYS School Boards Association in conjunction with the NYS Bar Association defines contingent expenses as, "Generally an expense if it is a legal obligation, specifically authorized by statute or necessary to maintain the educational program, preserve property or ensure the health and safety of the students or staff (Formal Op. of Counsel 213 (1967)).

Superintendent says, "It's none of your business."

At the April 24th meeting, Stephanie Cieslik, the past Co-president of the high school PTA was likewise troubled by the increases and the lack of their appearance in the budget document. She questioned the Board about Dr. Ciagliaís increase, but it could have been any one of the three assistant superintendents.

Cieslik: "It was Juneís merit increase and thatís why it wasnít in Mayís budget?"

Ellerbe: "To my knowledge, I donít know that they [the central administrators] have a contract. They have tenure. I donít know if they have a contract per se."

Nydick: "They donít have a contract."

Cieslik: "Could you please tell me what amount is Dr. Ciagliaís yearly merit increase."

Nydick: "He doesnít get a yearly merit increase unless the Board gives it to him."

Cieslik: "Could you please tell me what the Board gave Dr. Ciaglia in June of last year?"

Nydick: "This year the Board gave Dr. Ciaglia twelve thousand dollars."

Cieslik, "And what did the Board give Dr. Ciaglia last year?"

Nydick, "They didnít give him anything last year."

The conversation between Cieslik and Nydick continued back and forth. It was established that Dr. Ciaglia had not received an increase in the past three years. Cieslik asked Nydick if he had seen the high school scores. Upon further questioning, Nydick told Cieslik that he recommended the merit increase for Ciaglia.

Cieslik asked the Superintendent under what terms he recommended the increase?

Nydick responded, "None of your business."

Cieslik, taking a second to catch her breath, responded, "Youíre spending my money and youíre telling me itís none of my business?"

Nydick said, "Itís not your business, the reasons why I recommend something. I told you I recommended it. The reasons why I recommended it are my business."

Cieslik did not question the Board regarding the similar secret raises of the other two superintendents.



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