Answers offered on SWR principal switch

06/16/2013 3:00 PM |
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Miller Avenue parents and teachers rallying for popular principal Louis Parrinello

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Miller Avenue parents and teachers rallying for popular principal Louis Parrinello

One week after the Shoreham-Wading River school board’s controversial vote to switch the principals of two elementary schools, dozens of parents spoke out against the decision at the board’s regular meeting earlier this week.

And though district officials did offer some explanations for the switch — including a potential reorganization of the district to eventually turn Briarcliff into a kindergarten-only school — some parents were still unhappy with the move’s sudden announcement and what they saw as a lack of transparency by the district.

At their meeting last week, the board voted unanimously to move Miller Avenue principal Louis Parrinello to Briarcliff Elementary School in exchange for that school’s current principal, Patricia Nugent. The measure, added onto the agenda before the meeting, drew harsh criticism from hundreds of parents who filled the high school auditorium to protest the change.

At the time, parents demanded to know the reason for the switch, but district officials said they couldn’t comment on “personnel matters.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Parrinello was the first to take the podium in support of the board’s decision.

“From last week to this week it’s been a whirlwind, and it wasn’t easy for anyone, on our end or on your end,” he told the parents. “But in looking at it, it’s in the best interests of our district.”

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the district is planning ahead to the day when current Wading River Elementary School principal Steve Donohue retires. The district could then not fill Mr. Donohue’s position and save over $100,000 a year. Under that plan, first grade would be moved from Briarcliff to Wading River and Miller Avenue schools, and Briarcliff would be made into a kindergarten with no principal. Mr. Parrinello would then be moved to Wading River.

District officials stressed that the move was made in the best interests of the district’s children.

Mr. Parrinello said he was “humbled” by the support he had received from parents, but he stressed that Ms. Nugent deserves support and that parents should get behind the move and think positively.

Though the speech diffused much of the animosity in the room, some parents still demanded to know exactly why the switch was made.

After some heated discussion, board member John Zukowski — who was not at the previous meeting — explained that due to the tax levy cap, there was a projected $6 million gap in next year’s budget.

“That is in the back of every decision we need to make,” he said, adding the board is bound by state law not to discuss specific personnel matters.

“If that makes people unhappy, I apologize for that, but I’m not violating my oath as a trustee,” Mr. Zukowski said.

He also said he was disgusted by rumors that were spreading among parents about the reasons for the move, saying the administrators involved deserved better.

But while the most vocal parents in attendance accepted the move, some said afterward they were disappointed by the way it was handled and said they could not understand the logic behind the move.

“We sort of felt like we were left in the dark,” said parent Jeannie Spuhler. “[If] this was something that was proposed and maybe thrown out to the public, we could have had a discussion about it and it wouldn’t have been so heated the other night. It would have more thoughtful.”

psquire@timesreview.com

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