April 24 & May 2, 2001
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
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
FNYN said, "This is an extraordinary
event. We only have this once a year." Ellerbe interjected, "Of
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
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%
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
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
Ellerbe responded, "You are
misrepresenting the facts, as you usually do. No one is hiding
Your reporter concluded, "Mr.
Ellerbe, I suggest you look at your own budget. Iím done. Thank
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
The April 24th Board Meeting ē What a
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
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
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
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
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.