Pols: Proposed school board law would fight ‘taxpayer abuse’

07/05/2011 4:36 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Senator Ken LaValle (pictured) and Assemblyman Dan Losquadro have proposed legislationin response to a vote at last week's Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education meeting.

In an effort to combat what they’re calling “taxpayer abuse,” state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) are co-sponsoring legislation that would require lame duck school boards to have a supermajority vote to approve any contract for a superintendent hired between the May budget vote and a district’s annual reorganizational meeting.

The legislation comes in response to the Shoreham-Wading River school board’s decision to hire new superintendent Steven Cohen with no input from incoming board members and to pay the superintendent on a per diem basis to begin work before his contract kicks in, according to a press release Mr. LaValle’s office issued Monday.

Mr. Cohen’s hiring passed last month with a 4-3 vote.

Then the school board voted 4-1 at Thursday’s meeting to pay Dr. Cohen $1,240 per day for 10 business days before his contract begins. Dr. Cohen was given a four-year contract with a $210,000 salary per year.

“Clearly, by accepting an eleventh-hour appointment and then padding it with a per diem arrangement, Dr. Cohen never took a course in community relations,” Mr. LaValle said.

The elected officials also pointed to the Wyandanch School District, where the outgoing school board majority hired a new superintendent for $570,000 over three years. That board hired the new superintendent by a 4-3 vote.

“Shoreham and Wyandanch have made the case for this new legislation as well as underscoring the need for the property tax cap,” Mr. LaValle said, referring to the recent passage of a 2 percent year-to-year cap on property tax hikes. “No one locally is protecting the taxpayer.”

Reached later Tuesday, Shoreham-Wading River school board president Jack Costas said his board carried out a proper search process and didn’t rush in hiring Dr. Cohen, and criticized the potential legislation as a “foolish” move that would be doing more harm than good.

“The school year starts July 1,” he said. “If you’re doing a superintendent search, you’d want to sign an individual sometime before July 1. If you’re putting a moratorium on signing between May 17 and July 6 or whenever your reorganizational meeting is, you’re going to be signing a heck of a lot of superintendents on May 15 and 16.

“It’s going to be a big hurry-up process and then most boards won’t be engaged in due diligence,” he continued. “I don’t understand what protection you’re affording anybody.”

Mr. Losquadro left a planned affair in Greenport to attend the Shoreham-Wading River school board’s meeting Thursday to scold board members for passing the per diem agreement. At that meeting he had said the property tax cap legislation was needed due to “the inability of the most local government to negotiate effectively to re-open contracts and not to reduce in a time when we are in the worst fiscal crisis of our lifetime.”

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