By Carina Livoti
A petition, a social media campaign, dozens of speakers, and one openly dissenting board member later, the Northport-East Northport Board of Education refuses to budge on the proposed elimination of the arts chair position.
The board on April 1 finalized a $159.7-million dollar budget for next year that does not include an arts chair position.
At that school board meeting, Peter Mainetti, spokesperson for Northport-East Northport Stands Up for the Arts community campaign to keep the arts chair post, stressed that the group was asking the board to decide whether or not music department director Izett Mergen, who would absorb the position and become the district’s director of art and music, would be able to take on the position and maintain the standard of excellence for which Northport is known.
“It’s not often that a constituency asks an elected body for inaction, but that’s what we’re doing. We’re asking you to pass the buck. We’re asking you to kick the can down the road until next year, when we have our permanent superintendent… We’re not asking you decide whether this is really going to work; we’re asking you not to decide,” he said.
Despite this final plea and others, the board that night decided to maintain the original plan of removing the position. Board members did their best to assuage concerns raised by Trustee Stephen Waldenburg, who has been openly troubled by the proposed elimination from the start, and said that they would ensure that Mergen has all the necessary support coming into the expanded position.
The budget includes full-day kindergarten, an addition which garners the district $575,000 in state aid, along with great support and gratitude from the community. The budget-to-budget increase is 0.3 percent ($554,343) from last year and the tax levy increase would be 1.3 percent.
The district has $6.38-million, 3.99 percent of the total 2015-2016 budget, in its reserve fund. By state law, the fund cannot exceed 4 percent of a district’s annual budget.
The board will hold a public hearing to discuss the finalized budget on May 11, which will go to vote on May 19.
Mainetti said the Stands Up for the Arts group plans to remain active.
“There are maybe a few people that are interested in running for the board of ed; we’re definitely interested in staying active and involved. It’s a great organization full of concerned parents, and now is a good time to look at what we want to do next and how we want to go about it,” he said.