Highlights from 2021-22 meetings
■ At its reorganization meeting, the five Haldane Board of Education members re-elected Jen Daly as president and selected Sean McNall as vice president. (July 6)
■ The board agreed to pay $45,934 to A+ Technology & Security Solutions of Bay Shore for security upgrades. (July 6)
■ The board accepted a $675 donation from the Haldane Arts Alliance for tie-dye supplies for use in grades 6 and 7 and $754 for state competition medals for band and chorus students. (July 6)
■ On a recommendation from the superintendent, the board approved creating a position of director of curriculum and human resources. (July 6)
■ The board approved the creation of an elementary school teacher position, which was filled by Amy Pastula at an annual salary of $78,091, and the hiring of Liana Festo as a guidance counselor for $63,703 annually. (July 6)
■ Anthony Stronconi, a longtime maintenance worker for the district, offered the only bid for surplus musical instruments, purchasing 11 drums, a xylophone, keyboard, 2 timpani, a trumpet, a box of music stand lights, four clarinets, a flute, five trumpets, a cornet, five trombones and a tuba for $181. (Aug. 24)
■ Luke Parrella, a senior, was appointed as the board’s student representative for the 2021-22 year. (Oct. 5)
■ The board held a moment of silence for Ginny Pidala, who died on Sept. 24, and created the Ginny Pidala Annual Scholarship. Donations can be sent to the school. Pidala taught at Haldane High School for 36 years until her retirement. (Oct. 5)
■ The board agreed to change its public comment policy as of Oct. 15. The first public comment time will be for questions and comments on the agenda and/or presentations. A second time will be for questions and comments about any district business. (Oct. 5)
■Daly gave an update on the procedures for parent representation on district committees, which if approved would begin in the 2022-23 school year. (Oct. 5)
■ The board recognized three students — Owen Carmicino, Matthew McCoy and Marcel Schwarz — for being named National Merit Scholars. Only about 34,000 of the 1.5 million high school juniors who take the practice SAT achieve the distinction. (Oct. 19)
■ The board accepted a $500 grant from Haldane Arts Alliance toward the purchase of a portable public address system for outdoor events. (Oct. 19)
■ The board accepted a donation of Tegu magnetic wooden blocks valued at $310 from The Gift Hut in Cold Spring and a $2,480 grant from the New York State parks department for sixth-grade field visits to the Taconic Outdoor Education Center in Philipstown. (Nov. 2)
■ The board accepted a bid of $631,600 from Joe Lombardo Plumbing & Heating of Suffern for electrical and mechanical upgrades as part of Phase II of the 2019 capital project. (Nov. 2)
■ The board accepted a $250 grant from the Haldane Arts Alliance for a credit at Grey’s Printing for the large-format printing of student digital artwork and $1,000 toward the professional filming of the winter concerts. (Nov. 16)
■ At a special meeting, the board approved, 3-0, a settlement with an employee who was accused of “time theft.” According to the settlement agreement, the employee arrived for a 2 p.m. shift, remained in the parking lot for an hour, then went into the middle school, entered a room, locked the door, turned off the lights and went to sleep. The employee also had been reprimanded in May for theft of time. Superintendent Philip Benante recommended termination but agreed to a 60-day suspension without pay, plus probation through 2024. (Dec. 2)
■Benante shared a schedule to create a “campus master plan” that recommended forming an ad hoc committee. (Dec. 7)
■ Anne Dinio, the school business manager, announced her retirement as of April 30, 2022. (Dec. 7)
■ The Haldane School Foundation announced on Dec. 13 that it had awarded $25,349 in grants, including $1,000 to The Highlands Current for The Blue Print in print program; $1,000 for the high school debate club; $2,500 for the high school World Language Immersion program; $2,000 to film the winter concerts; $2,000 for an animal adventure program for grades K-2; $1,250 for a poetry program at the high school; $5,000 for an equity, diversity and inclusion speaker series; $2,300 for a fifth-grade field trip to a Connecticut amusement park for a science program; and $2,400 for a sixth-grade field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Dec. 21)
■ In a preliminary look at the 2022-23 budget, the board was told that state aid was expected to increase by about $114,000, to $1.92 million. On the expense side, health insurance premiums were expected to jump by 6 percent and teacher pension payments by 10.5 percent. (Dec. 21)
■ The board accepted a $72,000 bid from Con-Tech Construction Technology of Carmel for flagpole site improvements. (Dec. 21)
■ The board approved payments to its kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers for up to 2½ hours per week of remote instruction outside of their workday during quarantines. (Dec. 21)
■ At its Tuesday (Jan. 4) meeting, the board was presented with several proposed changes to district policies: (1) If a meeting is held in person and one or more board members attend by videoconference, a notice would identify their locations and members of the public could attend at those locations; (2) Disruptive behavior or obscene language, harassing language, defamatory statements and threats of violence would be not be allowed during meetings, under threat of removal by law enforcement. Public comment must also be related to the district and not about specific individuals; (3) The date by which a student must be 5 years old to register for kindergarten would change from Dec. 31 to Dec. 1; and (4) Using or ingesting recreational marijuana would be prohibited on school grounds.
■ Kindergarten registration is scheduled for Feb. 8 to 12. Contact Sue Hylka at 845-265-9254, ext. 122, or [email protected] by Feb. 5 to schedule an appointment. Children who turn 5 on or before Dec. 31 are eligible.
I’d like to draw the public’s attention to the Haldane Board of Education policy on public comment.
In contrast to practices at meetings held three or more years ago, the policy does not allow the board to reply to any questions or concerns raised during public comment. Only after the meeting do members respond privately by email or phone. Further, the policy allows the public to write letters to the board, which members respond to via email. But these letters are no longer scanned and added to the meeting minutes, even when the writer requests that the letter be made public. The board’s response to such letters is also not made public at meetings.
Like most folks who volunteer in our community, I appreciate the time and effort our elected, unpaid board members dedicate to the school. They are friends and neighbors. It is not easy to field questions from the public, but I don’t believe the policy on public comment serves the interests of the community or the board’s goals. State law requires boards of education to follow many rules and regulations, but they can determine how to run their meetings.
The board has informed me that it will address the public comment policy at its Tuesday (Jan. 18) meeting. I urge the public to attend to hear its reasons and share their thoughts. My questions include: (1) Is a board’s communication with the community truly “public” if only half of that communication is shared? (2) Does a board encourage input from the community if such tight control is kept over the manner in which the public can communicate with the board? (3) When a resident or a group of teachers takes the time to speak before the board, are they not entitled to some in-person response, rather than silence?
It is the slow, small diminishing of rights we take for granted which whittles away at a democracy. Unless we take the time, as citizens, to sit up and notice.