Common Core causes ire among Seaford parents


by Laura Schofer

“Common Core is a plane being built in midair,” said Heather Haifer, who spoke on behalf of many beleaguered parents at the October 10 Seaford school board meeting. About a dozen speakers aired their concerns about the Common Core State Standards Initiative now in place in New York state public schools.

Often referred to as “Common Core,” it is a nationwide effort, led by individual states, to establish a single set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts – reading, writing, speaking and listening – as well as mathematics. The standards are designed to prepare students for rigorous competition in the global economy.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Curriculum John Striffilino told residents the district was “attempting to use Common Core alignments and materials” at all levels of instruction. Mr. Striffilino said the teachers have been receiving training and he hoped to have a curriculum night for parents in late October or early November.

“Common Core is a shift in how we provide instruction and there is a complexity of concepts,” explained Mr. Striffilino. “Lessons that were 60 minutes now take longer. We must adjust. There are growing pains for all of us.”

But residents still had questions on Common Core. Some parents spoke about the appropriateness of reading material in grade three; others questioned the implementation of the “Go Math” program in the district for grades one and two. Several parents urged the school board to provide more funding for educational resources including more smart boards in elementary school classrooms and lowering class size, both to assist students to succeed under the new standards. Finally, parents questioned the new testing standards and teacher assessments. One parent urged the school board to issue a resolution against high stakes testing. Another father raised concerns about In Bloom, a for-profit entity that will house all student data collected by the state.

There has been a “lot of frustration about the feasibility and functionality of how this was implemented [by the state],” said Seaford School Board President Brian Fagan. “It may have been phased in too quickly. We have the same frustrations as you,” he told residents, adding that the new standards also have a financial impact on the district.

Superintendent Brian Conboy’s report

An access road at Seaford Harbor School may finally be built, if the Nassau County Legislature agrees to set aside money from the 2013 Capital Budget for Nassau County. “Last week there were several trucks – landscapers and construction vehicles on that road and it caused a lot of traffic congestion,” said Superintendent Conboy. “This illustrates the kind of problem we have down there and have had for 50 years. A lot of calls were made and we heard from [state] Senator Charles Fuschillo, [Nassau] Legislator David Denenberg and [county public works superintendent] Mike Martino. We are hoping this is not pre-election lip service. Next week I am to meet with Nassau County to review plans for the road.”

Additionally Superintendent Conboy spoke about school taxes and property assessment and tax grievances. “This is a difficult, multi layered problem. We vote in May when we know nothing about assessment. There has been talk about legislation to change that and hopefully going forward we can know the assessment to help with the projected tax rate,” he said. Mr. Conboy suggested that residents use the website to see what a homeowner’s property is assessed for. “Of all the things we need to be involved with, it is assessments.”

School finances

Alexandria Battaglia from R.S. Abrams & Company, presented the financial report for the 2012-2013 school year. She reported there were “no material weaknesses in the district,” but suggested that the district increase some of its reserve funds, including retirement contributions, workmen’s compensation and employee benefits accrued liability. At the present time these reserve funds are “low. Retirement contribution is at $262,000 but your expense is $1.1 million for one year; workmen’s compensation is $155,000 but should be $807,000 and employee benefit accrued liability is $1.2 million and should be $5 million.”

Board President Brian Fagan asked “How do other school districts build up reserves?”

“Many come up with a long term period to fund those reserves. You can't do it in one shot,” replied Ms. Battaglia.

Mr. Fagan said the good news concerning the financial condition of the district and the new financial controls that have been put in place will help with the Moody’s ratings.

But some parents argued that money spent on efficiency experts, security systems and a time clock system should be spent on the children.

Mr. Fagan replied that these savings in the end would free up resources for the children of Seaford.