The school board is also expected to vote on coach appointments, according to the meeting agenda. The district doesn’t release the names listed under personnel recommendations until after the resolution is approved, administrators have said.
It is unclear if the list includes a replacement for boys varsity lacrosse coach Tom Rotanz, whom the superintendent has said will not return next school year.
Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back for an update.
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen gives a presentation at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
Shoreham-Wading River School District’s elementary students will be divided among buildings based on grade level — not neighborhoods — starting in the 2014-15 school year.
The school board voted 4-2 in favor of implementing what’s called a Princeton Plan — developed in Princeton, N.J., and currently used in other districts — to enhance educational opportunities by grouping elementary school teachers and students by grade in the same buildings while downsizing staffing levels.
Superintendent Steven Cohen said a Princeton Plan model will benefit students because teachers will be with all their grade-level colleagues, which he said will result in an increased opportunity to collaborate on lesson plans.
But which grades will be housed in each building isn’t yet known.
Under one proposal for implementing the Princeton Plan, Briarcliff Elementary School would become a kindergarten-only building. That school currently runs a K-1 program. Students in grades 1-3 would attend either Miller Avenue or Wading River elementary; those in grades 4 and 5 would go to the other.
“The most important benefit from the Princeton Plan is that there’s much more dynamic interaction among teachers in order to improve and distribute high-level instruction and continuity of curriculum,” Mr. Cohen said. “In these days of heightened demands from Common Core and state ed, that is an important consideration to keep in mind as we talk about elementary school.”
The second Princeton Plan option, which would only be implemented if the budget fails in May, would involve closing the Briarcliff school.
During his presentation Tuesday, Mr. Cohen said his office has also drafted a Neighborhood Plan, an option that groups students by “catchment areas,” or where they live. Mr. Cohen wanted to present it for the board’s consideration because residents have said they’d prefer a more traditional option, but the board opted to go with a Princeton Plan.
School board member Robert Rose, who, with Sean Beran, cast a dissenting vote against the Princeton Plan, said that although he liked the Princeton Plan, he believed it would be more appropriate at this time to implement the Neighborhood Plan, which he described as “a baby step” toward the large-scale reconfiguration of the elementary program.
After a nearly two-hour discussion, and with more residents speaking in favor of the Princeton Plan than against it, the board approved the Princeton Plan proposal, with school board vice president John Zukowski and members Richard Pluschau, Michael Fucito, and Jack Costas voting for it. School board president Bill McGrath was absent from the meeting.
Now that the board has agreed to move forward with a Princeton Plan model, Mr. Cohen said it must now look at ways to reduce expenditures in the district’s secondary program.
He said that should the district do nothing, it would face a $8 million budget deficit next year.
The deficit was caused in part by the district’s pulling from its reserves in recent years to maintain programs and staffing levels at the school. Last year, the district used $5.5 million in reserves and leftover balances from the previous year.
Were this year’s budget to roll over into 2014-15 as-is, the district would be looking at a $2.5 million increase in expenditures.
SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO | The Briarcliff School in Shoreham.
The Shoreham-Wading River school board is expected to continue discussions Tuesday night about future plans for the district’s elementary school program.
During the school board’s Nov. 13 meeting, administrators discussed two options. The first plan would split the kindergarteners between Miller Avenue and Wading River elementary schools. The other option — the so-called “Princeton plan” — puts all the first- and second-graders in one elementary school, with the remaining grades up to fifth into the other elementary school. Both plans will include two drafts: one with Briarcliff Elementary School opened and with it closed.
The school board will also begin discussing the district’s secondary program options and selection classification within the athletic program, according to the meeting’s agenda.
The pubic portion of the meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Miller Avenue Elementary School located at 3 Miller Avenue in Shoreham.
Scroll down to view the complete agenda. Check back for an update.
The board voted unanimously to hire Mark Passamonte to oversee the district’s various sports, district officials said.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Students handed out buttons to help support their coach at the meeting.
Mr. Passamonte was the principal of Canton High School in upstate New York, and also worked as a combination of athletic director and administrator, said Superintendent Steven Cohen.
“It gives him a lot of dimensions that someone who’s only been an athletic director might [not] have,” Mr. Cohen said.
Mr. Passamonte will take over the position from interim athletic director Bill Denniston, who received the job in September after the abrupt resignation from interim athletic director Lynn Schwartz.
Mr. Passamonte will start on Jan. 6.
The hiring was the backdrop for residents’ impassioned pleas that coach Rotanz — who has guided the lacrosse team to three state and five Long Island championships over the past 19 years — be brought back for another year.
Mr. Rotanz told the News-Review that the school had offered him one more year as coach so long as he agreed to retire at the end of the year.
Mr. Cohen confirmed last week that he would not recommend Mr. Rotanz be rehired, adding that he felt a “change in leadership” was necessary.
But that position may soften after Mr. Rotanz addressed the board, and offered to meet again with Mr. Cohen and work on a transition plan.
“I don’t like being controversial, I just like coaching.” Mr. Rotanz said. “I’ll do whatever I can to make your job easier. If we can just sit down and work this out and have these meetings and hopefully face these bigger issues down the road.”
Mr. Cohen later told a member of the audience that he would think over Mr. Rotanz’s offer.
Former players, parents and current students all urged the board to listen to the community’s opinion.
“This is not merely a coach you are dismissing but a way of life here in our community,” said Shoreham resident Christine Bruno. “[Lacrosse] is the very heartbeat of our district.”
Before the meeting, players from the lacrosse team handed out flyers and buttons that read “Support Coach Rotanz.”
Shoreham-Wading River student Kyle Higgins noted on other issues, such as class sizes, the board said it would take community opinions into account when making decisions.
“We’re the people of the lacrosse community,” he said. “We want Coach Rotanz. Why can’t you give us what we want?”
The meeting was more cordial than last week’s, when a member of the audience nearly goaded a board member into a fight before district officials held the board member back and security escorted the speaker out of the building.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | SWR students listen at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
But that board member, John Zukowski, was again in the spotlight when a former coach broke the civility of the night and accused Mr. Zukowski of abusing his powers and yelled for his termination as the board’s president attempted to bring the meeting back under control.
Former junior varsity basketball coach Howard Geismar said he was fired because of an altercation he got into with Mr. Zukowski, claiming the board member berated him during a meeting with players’ parents.
“We have a bully on the board,” he shouted.
Mr. Zukowski said after the meeting that he had been responding to a complaint from another parent and said he got permission from the then-superintendent and board president before he approached Mr. Geismar.
Mr. Zukowski flatly denied ever having harsh words with the former coach.
“We shook hands and it was over,” Mr. Zukowski said. “What he said tonight was a complete fabrication.”
SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO | The Briarcliff School in Shoreham.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Briarcliff Elementary School may close as the district could not prepare separate plans for this year’s budget. Both plans the school board is debating offer options to leave Briarcliff open or close the school, depending on the results of May’s school budget vote.
If voters don’t approve this May’s Shoreham-Wading River school budget, Shoreham’s oldest school, Briarcliff Elementary School, may be no more.
Shoreham-Wading River’s school board is planning to give residents two options this spring: vote for a budget that pierces the cap but keeps the district schools the way they are, or vote for a budget in June that stays under the tax cap but closes the Briarcliff school and shuffles around the district.
District officials had told the board it would be a logistical nightmare to draft up two separate plans, contingent on a vote outcome. The board must now choose between two plans. The first plan would split the kindergarteners between Miller Avenue and Wading River Elementary Schools. The other option — the so called “Princeton plan” — puts all the first- and second-graders in one elementary school, with the remaining grades up to fifth into the other elementary school.
Both plans will include two drafts, one with Briarcliff opened and with Briarcliff closed, said Superintendent Steven Cohen. If the school closed, the distrct would save about $2 million in principal and teacher salaries and operating costs, he said.
The Princeton plan would save slightly less money due to increased transportation costs, Mr. Cohen said, but would also allow teachers to collaborate more among the grades.
Board vice president John Zukowski asked why it would be so hard to prepare separate plans.
Assistant superintendent Alan Meinster answered that too many factors would need to be taken into account, such as instructing teachers and administrators on how to prepare for the coming school year. School officials later said that so long as the board decided on either the neighborhood school plan or the Princeton plan, the administration could prepare adequately to have options to keep Briarcliff open or close the school.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse team watches on as a resident voices his support for ousted coach Tom Rotanz at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, Tom Rotanz won’t be on the sidelines with the Shoreham-Wading River varsity boys lacrosse team this spring.
Superintendent Steven Cohen confirmed Tuesday night he will not recommend Mr. Rotanz to be reinstated as coach and said the district has posted the position and other coaching jobs in the district as available.
Mr. Cohen said in an interview after the board’s meeting that he didn’t think it was “in the best interest of all the kids in the district” to retain Mr. Rotanz.
“I think we need new leadership,” Mr. Cohen said, though he declined to comment further.
Hear audio from the meeting below.
ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Tom Rotanz has coached Shoreham since 1995, which was the second year of the program.
Mr. Rotanz said he had spoken to Mr. Cohen last Thursday and was allegedly told he could be rehired for one more year so long as he agreed to resign the next year.
“I found it odd that I was OK for this coming spring, then why wouldn’t I be OK for the following one?” Mr. Rotanz said.
The apparent dismissal sparked an outcry from supporters of the coach and the school’s championship-winning program at the school board’s meeting Tuesday night, which became heated when a member of the public nearly goaded a board member into fighting him before the board member was restrained and the speaker escorted out by security.
More than 100 people, including many members of the boys lacrosse team, packed into the Shoreham-Wading River High School library and lobbied for over an hour for the coach to be reinstated.
“It’s hard to imagine what else you want out of a coach,” said resident John Higgins.
Shoreham resident Bob Hughes praised the way Mr. Rotanz fosters leadership skills in his team, noting programs like Lax Out Cancer, a lacrosse game played to support cancer patients and survivors.
“I saw coaches that developed these young men into men,” Mr. Hughes said.
Some parents questioned whether the board “appreciated” the accomplishments of Mr. Rotanz’s career — which include five state titles, most recently one in 2011 — while others said the district was getting a reputation for having “nothing but drama” in its athletics department.
“We’re a mess. No one wants to come here,” said Ken Gray of Wading River. “The perception is that the board makes decisions tailored to their own needs.”
The debate over Mr. Rotanz’s job reached a fever pitch when John Ryan from the Community Journal newsletter took the podium and began admonishing board vice president John Zukowski over rumors about his child.
Mr. Ryan was quickly cut off by board members, but Mr. Ryan continued to demand answers and Mr. Zukowski told the man to sit down.
“Why don’t you make me sit down?” Mr. Ryan challenged, drawing gasps from the crowd.
Mr. Zukowski sprung up from his chair and began walking toward the man before he was stopped by district officials. Mr. Ryan was ushered out of the room by security.
As Mr. Zukowski returned to his seat, incensed, members of the audience jeered at the board member to applause from the crowd.
While he later apologized for his actions at the end of the meeting, Mr. Zukowski said, “say what you want about me, but leave my family out of it.”
DAVE ANDERSON PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River coach Tom Rotanz gets dumped with water after the Wildcats’ Long Island championship victory last spring.
Mr. Cohen said that while the district did not plan to rehire Mr. Rotanz, every other coaching position that wasn’t filled by a SWR faculty member was also made available to see if better candidates would line up for the spots.
“The board wanted to see who applied and what the market was like,” Mr. Cohen said.
Mr. Rotanz was a teacher in the Rocky Point School District. Mr. Rotanz said he remained hopeful the district would reconsider its decision.
“I’m just kind of taken aback on the whole issue,” Mr. Rotanz said. “We had great success on and off the field.”
In the past two years alone, Shoreham graduates have gone on to play lacrosse at schools like the University of Notre Dame, University of Maryland and Ohio State.
But the school board voted unanimously to rehire Mr. Rotanz after other parents, residents, and players came to his defense, arguing that his detractors were disgruntled over their children’s lack of playing time.
Mr. Rotanz also nearly lost his job before the 2002 season, when he was removed as head coach by the school board for what was then described as “serious criminal charges.”
His players led a campaign to bring the coach back and he was reinstated shortly before the 2002 season began without missing a season.
On Tuesday night, Coach Rotanz’s players rushed to his defense again.
“His resume speaks for itself,” said Shoreham senior and lacrosse player Alex Makoske in an interview. The teen was on the varsity team last year, and said he didn’t see much action on the field.
But Alex said that didn’t stop him from enjoying the game and his team.
“I didn’t even play at all, but I still had a great time,” he said.
Hunter Hayes, another senior and key member of last year’s championship team, urged the board to listen to parents and students who wanted Coach Rotanz back.
“I speak for the great majority of my team when I say that we’ve had great experiences playing for two great coaches,” he said. “I cannot understand why you’re taking that away from us. Shouldn’t our voices be the ones that are heard?”
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | The Shoreham-Wading River school board at its Oct. 22 meeting.
At Tuesday night’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting, Superintendent Steven Cohen reported that a budget shortfall in the coming school year could be $2.5 million more than previously anticipated, resulting in a total budget gap of $8 million and cuts in several course offerings, as well as over two dozen teaching positions.
Mr. Cohen reported in September that the school district faces a budget gap of about $5.5 million in the 2014-2015 school year. The projected budget gap has jumped by $2.5 million, he said, because the board had not yet calculated the average expenditure increase over the last five years in September.
The board had also “not yet decided [in September] to use that average as the best estimate for purposes of planning discussions,” he said in an email on Wednesday.
“This is to give the board and the community an idea of what a large problem we’re facing,” Mr. Cohen said on Tuesday of the projected budget gap. “This is the grim reality.”
Though the 2013-14 budget gap of $5.5 million was filled by dipping into reserves, Mr. Cohen said, that’s not going to be an option in the future.
“We no longer have reserves as a source of revenue, which means either revenue from some other source must be found or we must reduce programs, or some combination of these options,” he said. On-hand reserves of $10 million, and another $10 million in expected revenues in state aid over coming years would run out in two years if the board chose to fill the gap solely by using reserves, according to Mr. Cohen. The only other possible revenue source would be piercing the tax levy cap.
Mr. Cohen is in the process of meeting with members of the community for what’s he’s calling strategic planning sessions, to figure out which programs could be changed, which ones could be cut and which ones are considered essential the way they are in the face of a looming budget crisis. Three meetings remain, including a Nov. 6 meeting at the high school and another on Nov. 21 with the Wading River Civic Association.
If the district were to eliminate all non-mandated courses, Mr. Cohen said, the following programs and classes would be cut from the high school: band, chorus and orchestra, all business and technology courses, and the theatre arts program. At the middle school, the following would be eliminated: band, chorus and orchestra, and sixth grade health and foreign language courses.
In addition to these possible cuts, Mr. Cohen said, both schools could face reductions in class sections in subjects such as science, English, social studies and foreign language. The high school’s art program would also be reduced, as would the number of students eligible to participate in occupational education programs through BOCES, he said.
The potential cuts, coupled with increased class sizes, means a total of around 30 full-time teaching positions could be eliminated from the district’s current program, Mr. Cohen said.
AUDIT: STUDENTS RECEIVING FREE, REDUCED LUNCHES DOUBLES
Reviewing an external audit performed by a Port Jefferson-based accounting firm, the school board revealed that close to twice the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches nearly doubled in the past year, from about 45 to close to 90 kids.
“There weren’t major items we were concerned about and we didn’t get any serious discrepancies because there weren’t any,” board member Michael Fucito said of the audit, which was conducted by Cullen & Danowski.
While no issues were reported in regards to the district’s financial practices, the unanticipated costs will need to be taken into account moving forward, as an $8 million budget shortfall stares the district in the face in the coming school year.
The board voted 5-0 to accept both the independent external audit as well as a federal audit from last year. School board president Bill McGrath and board member Sean Beran were both absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
BOARD MEETINGS: EARLIER START TIME
The school board also decided to change the start time of school board meetings from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. going forward. The change goes into effect at the board’s next meeting, which takes place Nov. 26.
School board vice president John Zucowski told audience members the earlier start time would help draw more residents to meetings.