The Teacher’s Association of Prospect Park (TAPP) raised numerous objections and concerns at the June 9th Board of Education meeting over unilateral decisions being made by the Board without the input of the Superintendent, as well as the Board’s lack of action on agenda items, and a misrepresentation of the facts pertaining to contract negotiations.
The TAPP raised the alarm, along with the district Superintendent, Allison Angermeyer, and building principal, Catherine D'Arrigo, that decisions being considered by the Board of Education will negatively impact students in the special education program, while leaving the district non-compliant in fulfilling their educational obligations. A school district’s child study team is required to consist of a school psychologist, a social worker, and an LDTC (Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant). Prospect Park currently only has a district-employed social worker. The school psychologist, Lillian Baumzweig, is retiring at the close of the school year, and the district does not presently have an LDTC. The Board is considering bringing students who are currently placed in specialized schools out of district back to Prospect Park as a money saving measure, even though the district currently lacks the staffing and resources to comply with the students’ Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs). This also raised a concern over the lack of physical space to accommodate the return of these students since the school board relocated their entire office into the school building.
Early in the meeting, Board President Daysi Gonzalez made a motion to table an agenda item (F24) concerning therapy services and learning disabilities. When asked by fellow Board member Ashley Alba why she wanted to table the item, she responded that “Our goal is to bring those services to our district, so I would like to further look into this. We spend so much money sending our students out.” This brought an immediate response from the Superintendent, who stated “I just want to point out that we will have compliance issues if this is not approved (by July 1)”. Angermeyer was referring to services that are not currently provided by the Prospect Park School District for children within the district. Principal Catherine D'Arrigo further attempted to clarify the impact of the decision the Board is contemplating by stating that “this company and this service is not pertaining to students out of district, this is a company that provides us services in district. We don’t have people on staff to provide these services” She continued to point out that “This company provides us with LDTC, which is a required position on the child study team. Without them, we cannot continue with any evaluations. They also provide us services, IEP mandated services, that need to be in place for the summer sessions, These are not pertaining to out of district at all - these are not pertaining to therapies, these are positions that are not on staff.” The Board president replied that a special meeting to discuss the budget will be held before the end of June to further discuss the subject. The discussion can be heard in its entirety, along with the rest of the agenda and public comments, by visiting the Teacher’s Association of Prospect Park Facebook page.
Other issues that were raised by the TAPP pertained to the Board’s misrepresentation of the facts pertaining to the status of negotiations, and frustration over what has become the Board’s practice of continually “tabling”, or not voting on, matters that are of crucial importance to the operations of the school, particularly those which affect the safety and well being of the students and staff. To the first point, the TAPP began requesting information needed for negotiations in January of 2019, and met with the district’s attorney and Board Secretary twice last summer, without the presence of any Board members. The Board Secretary failed to produce all of the requested information needed by the TAPP to proceed with negotiations, leaving no other recourse than to file for mediation. It should be noted that negotiations can continue while a date with a mediator is being scheduled, should the district so choose, a move which could save the taxpayers additional fees.
The TAPP also expressed their frustration over the tabling of votes by the Board on agenda items that included, but were not limited to, the Superintendent's emergency authorization to hire properly certificated individuals between board meetings, the approval of the appointment of office personnel, the appointment of a part- time custodian, approving the appointment of all administrators, and the approval of the Boy’s and Girl’s club which benefits students in the school’s before and after care. The Board also tabled voting on a shared agreement for an additional police officer for which $65,000 had been budgeted, but who would instead be paid at a rate of $42,000 annually, raising questions about the allocation of the remaining $23,000. The additional officer was assigned to the school due to the elimination of the position of the Vice- Principal at the May 5th Board of Education meeting, over the protests of the district Superintendent and members of the Teacher’s Association of Prospect Park (TAPP). The Board claimed the decision was made to save the district money, but was done against the wishes of the school community. Instead of a full-time, district-employed resource officer, the Board made an agreement with the municipality for two resource officers from the police department. However, as TAPP Co-President Megan Major pointed out, “Because they are not district employees, they are handicapped when it comes to administrative actions. They cannot question a child without an administrator present, they cannot give out detention or suspension and should the need arise, they can be pulled from the school without replacement to handle police matters, leaving our school vulnerable. Not to mention the fact that there are presently no other male administrators. With the elimination of the vice principal position, who is in charge of discipline for 900 students, HIB Coordinator, and Building Safety team leader? How is this benefiting the students of Prospect Park when it is making them less safe?” The Board would only say that the superintendent would have to figure out who would take over the responsibilities, implying that this crucial administrative position was eliminated without the Board members even knowing what the plan for maintaining the discipline of the school building would be.
As the Board of Education is seeking to slash spending, TAPP member Laura Colomier inquired as to why the Business Administrator / Board Secretary, who was hired by the district in June, 2019 at a salary of $90,000, now appears in the Board’s 2021 future budget to potentially receive a $23,000 pay increase, raising his salary to $113,000. She then reminded the Board that “With the Covid 19, your teachers have been working with an unbelievable impediment. We have learned to teach virtually, successfully, in less than a month. We have tried to remain positive and project that positivity for our students while dealing with home-schooling, sick relatives, dying relatives, etc. So seeing these budgetary numbers is quite disconcerting.” In the meantime, as in the past, the TAPP will continue to advocate for the safety and well-being of their students.