The Malverne school district's facilities have been upgraded dramatically over the past year, but the same can not be said for the policy that dictates how outside groups use the buildings and fields.
The district's facilities use policy has not been modified since it was adopted in 2007 and even Assistant Superintendent of District Operations Spiro Colaitis has admitted to Patch that the policy is lacking.
"At my urging, general counsel for Malverne has been advising the [Board of Education] for 18 months that the facilities policy needed to be reviewed and revamped," Trustee Gina Genti told Patch Monday.
A more robust, five-page policy was scheduled to be introduced at the May 8, 2012 school board meeting for a "first reading," around the time that residents were questioning whether a for-profit organization from South Carolina should be permitted to use Malverne's fields to hold a two-day football camp in coordination with the Malverne Wildcats youth football program.
Genti explained that the advice from counsel to revamp the policy "took on a sense of urgency" when Michael Taylor, president of the Wildcats, was elected to the school board on May 15 "due to the fact that a youth group he controls would be seeking permission to use the facilities he now has some control over."
She said, "The advice was given to prevent the appearance of an abuse of power by a BOE Trustee and to better protect the new assets of the Malverne school community from individuals profitting from taxpayer-owned buildings and grounds, which is clearly against NYS Education Law, as well as to create a clear set of rules for the use of these assets by all of the volunteer and civic groups that are part of the school district's communities."
A revised Buildings Use policy was once again on the agenda for the Sept. 12 business meeting for another "first reading," but since not all board members were given a complete copy of the draft policy, the board's discussion on it was postponed. (A however, did break out during the public commentary portion of that meeting regarding conflicts between two youth sports leagues, the Malverne Wildcats and CYO Soccer, over use of the district's new turf.)
There were no policy readings on the agenda for the board's Oct. 9 business meeting, but the "Use of Buildings Policy" did make it on the agenda for last Tuesday's meeting for a first reading. However, the discussion was yet again delayed.
School Board President Peg O'Connor said that while on her way to the meeting Taylor asked her if the policy reading could be tabled.
"I've been asked to table it, because there seems to be some confusion," said O'Connor, who did not ask Taylor why he wished to postpone the reading.
Genti did not see the purpose of tabling the discussion yet again, stating, "These meetings, these readings are specifically to open up dialogue and discussion and vett these policies before they are adopted ... If Mr. Taylor has reservations or wants to add value or input, now is the time to do it."
Florence Frazer, the board's attorney, told Genti, "Generally-speaking, you are correct. The purpose of having first reading, second reading and then adoption the third time is to vett the policy."
O'Connor then interrupted Genti to ask the entire board if they wished to proceed with the first reading discussion of the policy or table it.
"We could do this here in public in front of the people who pay taxes and use our facilities, or we can have these conversations off the record somewhere else," Genti said. "My preference is that we do it in front of the taxpayers." (O'Connor stated that the board is required to conduct these discussions in public.)
Trustee Josephine Bottitta said, "I thought there was going to be the opportunity that having gotten the full policy, to have reviewed it and have basic conversations with legal counsel."
Taylor reiterated his desire to table the policy discussion while Bottitta asked, "If it gets tabled, do we have to wait until the next month to do the same thing ... or are we going to be able to discuss it between now and then, and ask the questions that we have?"
O'Connor responded, "Well, you don't have a meeting, so you can't discuss it between now and then because this is a public discussion."
Genti asked O'Connor why she did not question Taylor on his motive for wanting the reading to be tabled.
"I don't have to ask him," O'Connor responded. "He has the right to think. He has the right to speak, just like you do."
With a 4-1 vote, O'Connor, Taylor, Bottitta and Trustee Danielle Hopkins all voted in favor of tabling the policy's first reading. But O'Connor instructed Taylor to submit his questions in writing to his fellow board members before the next meeting so they are prepared to discuss the policy.
Voicing her frustration, Genti explained that she has a large stack of draft facilities use policies, dating back to February 2011, in her home, adding, "If I'm willing to do my due dilliegence and spend a lot of time vetting these policies ... I don't understand why common courtesy by other board members can't be afford to do the same thing. If you have a questions, ask it. You have all the talent you need right here who can address any concern or input you might have."
Bottitta pointed out that both she and Taylor were only elected to the board in May and therefore, were seeing the policy for the first time in September, when the draft given out was incomplete.
But Genti told them that they had plenty of time to get accurate copies of the policy, and review it before the Nov. 13 meeting. "It's been two months since this board made the administration aware that the policy they had was incomplete," she said. "Two months."