SWR: New majority votes for change in leadership on school board

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Second-term board member Bill McGrath was sworn in as president, replacing Jack Costas, at Tuesday's reorganizational meeting.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board voted in new leadership at its meeting Tuesday, ushering in a decisive new majority for the 2011-12 school year.

Bill McGrath, who just began his second term, took over the role of president from Jack Costas, the other nominee. His election was opposed by Mr. Costas, former vice president Marie Lindell and trustee Rich Pluschau.

Mike Fucito, who has served 20 years on the district’s board — two as president and 13 as vice president — has again been voted in as vice president. Mr. Costas, Ms. Lindell and Mr. Pluschau also cast “no” votes to elect Mr. Fucito, instead supporting a motion to nominate Mr. Pluschau as vice president.

Mr. McGrath, Mr. Fucito and board member Leo Greeley have voted the same way on several key votes recently, including their opposition to the hiring of new superintendent Steven Cohen. On Tuesday, newcomer John Zukowski proved to be the swing vote to elect new leadership, changing the majority in what may signal a new era on the Shoreham-Wading River school board.

Just before the meeting adjourned, Mr. Pluschau held up a sign indicating the number of votes both Mr. Costas and Mr. McGrath received in the May school board election. Mr. Costas garnered 1,304 and Mr. McGrath got 996. The sign noted that Mr. Costas received 31 percent more votes than the new president.

“The board did not listen to the community,” he said to a reporter after the meeting.

Also after the meeting, Mr. McGrath vowed to create a unified school board.

“I will work to make sure every vote is a 7-0 vote,” he said.

“I will bring education to the forefront and focus on the needs of our children,” he continued. “We’ll do the best we can for the people in this district who elected us.”

The tone of the meeting was, for the most part, more amicable than the last one July 6, a special meeting called by Mr. McGrath to have an early vote for president and vice president.

“I lost confidence in our officers and wanted to replace them, pure and simple,” he said at the last meeting, identifying the new superintendent’s contract and consulting fee as the reason.

After superintendent Harriet Copel said the election must occur at the reorganizational meeting, the items were tabled.


Members of the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education continued to squabble over a measure allowing Dr. Cohen to begin work on a per diem basis for two weeks, a move that will cost the district $8,750 for the two weeks before his contract starts August 1.

Mr. Zukowski noted that $215,000 was budgeted for the superintendent’s salary this year, and that Dr. Cohen’s salary, benefits and consulting fee has exceeded that amount by $8,000.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Greeley said the dates in which Dr. Cohen will begin working don’t allow for optimal training, since outgoing superintendent Harriet Copel will be working on just four of the 10 days.

Mr. Pluschau had responded that Dr. Cohen would make the most of the four days with Dr. Copel and would have other administrators from which to learn on the other days.

On Tuesday, Mr. Pluschau questioned a measure that spends $41,000 on four days of professional development for 29 teachers this summer. He noted that some board members and community residents asked if Dr. Cohen would begin work early on a consulting basis without the $8,750, and that the same should be asked of teachers.

“Has anyone asked the teachers if they’ll come in without compensation?” he said.

Board members said they’d ask teachers to do so. The measure, which was packaged with other personnel items, passed by a 5-0-2 vote, with Mr. Pluschau and Ms. Lindell abstaining.


Dr. Copel announced Tuesday that Briarcliff Elementary School principal Jane Ruthkowski has resigned and will instead be an elementary school principal in the Hauppage School District.

The plan, Dr. Copel said, is to have a new principal in place for the start of school. She said Dr. Cohen would give future updates on a new principal.


At last Wednesday’s meeting, Miriam Logan of Wading River complained to the board over some of the district’s financial actions with regard to the Wildcat Athletic Club (WAC), a 501c3 private charity that supports the district’s athletic activities, primarily through fundraisers.

After obtaining documents through Freedom of Information Law requests over the last year, she said she found that the district paid $30,000 for an audit of WAC. She also said she found that the district paid $30,000 so that WAC could hold a fundraiser on school grounds and that federal tax documents are missing, along with some $400,000 in receipts and bank checks.

She said her documents show that WAC, which was formed in 2000, didn’t file taxes with the IRS until 2006.

“This is a failure of our administration to administer,” she said. “I think there’s a problem with either the filing system, the administration or our attorneys.”

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