Music filled the auditorium of Schreiber on Tuesday night as the Port Washington Symphony Orchestra took the stage under the direction of Anthony Pinelli Jr. to open the Oct. 20 Board of Education (BOE) meeting. After the performance, the meeting got underway with two presentations. The first presenter, Trisha Lucas, CPA of D’Arcangelo & Co. LLP., outside independent auditors for the district, gave a summary of the 2014-15 year-end audit and financial statements. As in years past, the district received an unmodified clean opinion, which is the best and highest level of opinion that can be issued. Lucas began with a summary of the application of General Accounting Standards Board Statement No. 68. GASB 68 sets forth new guidelines for improved financial reporting of pension liabilities by state and local governments. These new rules applied not only to the 2014-15 financial statements, but also required the district to restate its 2013-14 financials for full implementation and compliance. Lucas also reviewed assigned and unassigned fund balances, as well as monies in capital projects and debt service as of June 30, 2015.
In addition, Lucas said that since the district receives over $500,000 in federal funding, a single audit was required and no deficiencies were found.
Dr. Wafa Westervelt, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment presented the results of the 2015 English and Math Assessments for grades 3 to 8. Dr. Westervelt began with a review of the scoring of the assessments, which were recently revised to align with the Common Core learning standards. A student’s performance is graded on a scale of 1 to 4, 4 being the highest. A score of 4 means that a student has exceeded or excelled above the Common Core standard for that grade, a 3 indicates the student was proficient in the standards, a 2 shows a student to be either below or partially proficient in the standards and a score of 1 indicates a student is well below the standards for that grade.
Overall, the number of students receiving a 3 or 4 on the assessments in 2015 was relatively consistent with the prior year, with data showing a slight decrease in the percentage of students achieving proficiency in English and an increase in those achieving proficiency in math.
Notwithstanding, Port Washington students performed well above New York state averages in both subjects and were close to 100 percent proficiency in science. However, Dr. Westervelt emphasized that a contrast of data from 2015 to prior years was not a true comparison because of the higher number of students whose parents opted them out of the tests this past spring.
An internal analysis of the test scores of students who opted out of testing in 2015 but sat for the tests in 2014 showed that a significant number of these students (a range of approximately 35 to 50 percent across the grades) scored 3 or 4 on the prior year exams. Dr. Westervelt believes that it is likely these students would perform similarly on the current year assessment had they sat for the tests.
In addition, 2015 was the second year in which 8th grade accelerated students were exempt from taking assessments and sat for Regents exams instead, which tended to depress 8th-grade scores under the assumption that accelerated students would likely score in the 3 and 4 range.
The board also discussed growing enrollment and the stress that this trend is placing on district resources, noting the recent influx of refugee children from Central and South America placed in the district under Homeland Security programs. Many of these students require services for English as a new language (ENL, formerly known as English as a second language or ESL) which is placing additional burdens on this mandated program because the arrival of these students was unexpected.
Other items covered at the meeting were the announcement and recognition of five members of the class of 2016 who were named National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists and acknowledgment of several gifts to the district. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney also announced that the board would be approving a resolution to allow the district to seek a hardship waiver for APPR compliance. While the district and its bargaining units are negotiating in good faith to work through what has proved to be a very complicated plan, the district has no assurance that a timely agreement will be reached and, therefore, seeking a hardship waiver is prudent under the circumstances.