By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO October 28, 2005 In a rare moment, the Monticello Central Schools Board of Education unanimously sustained the appeals of several residents asking for house pickups and dropoffs (at a business in one case) of their children, allowing them to gain those direct pickups after two months of requests.
Local veterinarian Larry Mauer and residents of Leonard Road received the approvals from the board, which overturned decisions made by Department of Transportation Director Martin Gershowitz and Superintendent Eileen Casey.
The approval of Mauers request followed nearly two months of work to take pictures of the grade of the road in front of his office on Broadway as well as the visibility. The board unanimously agreed with him, and several called into question Gershowitzs reasoning for the original denial.
Gershowitz continued to defend his reasoning while admitting that there were no visibility problems, contrary to his initial explanation. Upon questioning and remarks by board members such as Jacob Billig, Richard Feller, Eugene Nesin and Robert Stewart, Gershowitz admitted that there were many other bus stops in the district with steeper hills and less visibility.
The board members said they visited the site and witnessed no such visibility problems or issues with the hill which begins to decline after the stop.
Casey said she wanted the decision by the board to mention it was going against the wishes of the administration.
Billig and Stewart said the decision spoke for itself, since the appeal was only brought to the board because the request was rejected by the administration. Feller said the decision itself was being made due to the rejection of the request by Gershowitz, Casey and Business Administrator Gladys Baxter (who also oversees the transportation department).
However, Feller did request that the pictures provided by Mauer, the answers by Gershowitz to the boards questions and the site visit made by board members be mentioned in an official reasoning for the boards decision.
In the case of Leonard Road, Gershowitz once again used the issue of visibility and the alleged steep incline of the road.
That was also rejected by the board, who noted many other steep areas in the district, including West Broadway and Atwell Lane. They also said that visibility was not a problem. Nesin noted the road had bus service five years ago, when there were schoolchildren there. The new requests for service were due to new homes built there.
Feller stated that the boards unanimous approval for bus service be contingent upon some ditch work and slight tree-cutting by the Town of Thompson Highway Department, to ensure its safety. Town of Thompson Highway Superintendent Richard Benjamin and his deputy David Wells once again attended the meeting and pledged to do the work. They have also said they would do work on roads which had similar safety problems.
There were two other parents there to speak about unresolved bus issues, which go back over two years.
Peggy Johnson once requested bus service but was told that buses dont back up in the district. The board said on Tuesday that they were given incorrect information at the time. Buses do, in fact, back up.
As a result of the schools decision back then, Johnsons children and other children are picked up and dropped off at an allegedly dangerous intersection. Wells said the bus stop has been the site of three fatal accidents over the last 20 years.
Board member Robert Rosengard advised Johnson to re-appeal the old decision. Johnson asked the board if they would be inclined to grant the request, so she knows if it is worth her time. Board President Alyce Van Etten responded, I dont know if we can help you.
Billig and Feller said they recognized the boards earlier decision was flawed and advised her that she had the right to re-appeal.
One parent whose quest for bus service to her home has seen little movement over more than two years is June Lombardi. The resident of Plank Road has been fighting a stop at the intersection of busy Route 17B over that time period. Her appeal was supported by Nesin and Stewart about two years ago. Since then, the Town of Bethel Highway Department has made improvements to Plank Road to alleviate some concerns of the schools transportation department, but nothing has been done.
Lombardi still contends the stop is dangerous and that her daughter should not have to walk alone nearly a mile to her home. She received no response from the board.
A number of bus drivers were in attendance, and some said they appeared as an opportunity to engage Gershowitz, who has rarely attended board meetings over his career. But during a five-minute recess called by Van Etten, Gershowitz and his assistant left.
Bus drivers have complained recently about allegedly unwarranted suspensions, retaliation against those who speak out, discrimination, exporting of jobs outside the union, and other issues.
In other business, the matter of Math Director Gary Furman, who came under severe attack last week for his allegedly heavy-handed tactics, was raised by Billig. Billig asked if there will be a meeting and presentation between the board and Furman. Casey said there would be.
Billig said that the math department faculty should be involved in the presentation as well. Casey responded that she was not sure if she agrees that we need a presentation from everybody.
Casey and Assistant Superintendent Patrick Michel said that New York State standards for math have risen, and a new approach will be needed to deal with them.
Last Thursday, longtime respected math teacher Dr. Neil Jacobs read letters allegedly written by Furman in which he disparaged Jacobs and called on faculty to do an enormous assignment for him by the next teaching day. Furman was also called a bully for his attitude towards the faculty.
In another matter, some of the students charged with possession of a weapon during several fights this month will reportedly not be returning to the high school.
When questioned about the suspensions after the meeting, Michel simply said, Goodbye. Casey also walked away from questions.