Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education president Jack Costas sent out a letter Wednesday to the community, explaining his position on the hiring of new Superintendent Steven Cohen.
The following is Mr. Costas’ statement in its entirety:
There has been some controversy surrounding the Superintendent search process and the hiring of Dr. Steven Cohen as our next Superintendent. The BOE researched multiple options available for conducting the search and decided to use School Leadership, a search firm specializing in administrative hiring. The search firm advertised the position, reviewed all applications, then interviewed nine applicants they felt were best qualified and met our specifications. Next they recommended five applicants as semifinalists. The six members of the BOE who participated in the interview process selected Dr. Cohen as their number one choice. Much discussion transpired and all board members were given the opportunity to have follow-up interviews with any or all candidates. All seven board members participated in crafting the employment agreement that was offered to Dr. Cohen. His salary is $210,000 with no provision for increase other than merit, at the board’s discretion. This is over $30,000 less than our current superintendent’s salary. The district will achieve considerable savings in the new superintendent’s benefits by increasing his contribution towards health, dental and vision from 10 to 20 percent. Additionally, disability and life insurance have been converted to fixed payments which shield the district from annual increases.
Addressing the issue of the consulting contract the board approved for Dr. Cohen: Districts traditionally hire superintendents July 1, the beginning of the school year. This gives the new superintendent time to become familiarized with district operations, procedures, personnel, buildings, BOE, current issues, history, etc. Dr. Cohen will begin Aug. 1, losing a full month. No matter how qualified or competent an individual is, he or she still needs to learn the intricacies of a new organization. The BOE and many community members wanted overlap between the two superintendents. Our legal counsel advised us that a consultants contract would be proper and is customary in these situations. His compensation for the period from July 18 to July 29 is his annual salary divided by 240 (work days annually) times ten work days ($8,750). Let it be noted that Dr. Cohen is already in our district devoting his full time to meetings with personnel, stakeholders, counsel, etc. without compensation and will continue to do so for the next two weeks. Our district has hired administrators with overlap many times in the past. This time, the district will get value for its expenditure.
An important consideration in his hiring is the fact that his educational philosophy is in agreement with our “Educational Goals- Recommendations for Curriculum and Instruction.” This manifesto was crafted by our Educational Goals Committee and adopted by the BOE in November 2009. It is thoughtful and places emphasis on developing the whole student. Dr. Cohen, in his interview, said the goals statement was the “hook” that ultimately led him to our district. The Educational Goals are posted on our website. Everyone in this district should read them.
Dr. Cohen comes to us from a district with an extremely small commercial tax base that receives much less state aid than our district. Their highest levy in the past five years was less than 3 percent. He is fully cognizant of the need for fiscal responsibility. Considering the fact we are facing a 2 percent or less tax cap, we need a superintendent willing to continue our mission of providing a quality education to our students while navigating the precarious fiscal outlook which all districts are facing. It is obvious our state representatives are incapable of bringing state aid parity to our district. Considering their failure, it is even more essential we have a superintendent who will unite this district. Dr. Cohen is that person. He will be a student advocate while respecting and considering the plight of all stakeholders in our community.
I am aware there are some community members who are not in agreement with the BOE’s decisions and some residents with their own agendas, but I urge all community members to unite in support of our new superintendent. Those of you who are open-minded and have the best interests of our children at heart need not be convinced. You trust the BOE and are willing to give Dr. Cohen a chance to be successful and continue our quest to make SWR the best school district on Long Island. I directly appeal to the remainder of our residents to do the same for the welfare of our district. In my three years as a member of the BOE, every decision I have made, every vote I have cast, has been in the best interest of the entire community, with the welfare of our children at the forefront of those decisions. I urge every resident to become informed. Attend board meetings or view the videos. Write to or call the BOE with your questions, comments, goals, etc. Don’t allow a small group of individuals with their own agendas to determine the future of our district. Don’t be intimidated. The BOE works for the community. They must be accountable to the community.
I urge all community members to unite, engage in discourse and voice their opinions in an effort to propel this district forward. Let us unite for the common good of the district and for the sake of our childrens’ futures. I appeal to all board members and all members of administration to act in the same manner. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Jack Costas, a concerned resident