Rightly so, questions are lingering about the retirement and cost of Superintendent Dr. Lagnado, the future and the leadership of our school district. Half-truths are being propagated, board members are being maligned for having the courage to act on our responsibilities. You also may be asking how the latest developments and actions of the school board majority will affect our children’s academic achievements, and the future of our community in the long-term.
I believe, it is important to remind our community what the responsibilities are of the school board in order to judge our actions and to hold us accountable. Our primary responsibilities are to set the vision, policy, and goals of our school district along with being prudent financial stewards. We are responsible for evaluating and accounting for progress or lack thereof and to continuously strive to improve academic outcomes.
A common concern I hear from our community is the lack of meaningful improvement in the ranking of our school district within Long Island per the NYS proficiency score card and the high cost of public education. This fact influences the perception in our community on how well we are preparing our children for success after high school, and the value of investing in our schools via property taxes.
Unfortunately, the community’s perception is not far from reality— in fact it is actually worse than what most people think! Despite our community, faculty and board’s great strides over the last few years to increase the high school graduation rate to over 80%, the bottom line is whether you look at the NYS proficiency scores, the average SAT scores (183 points less than the national average) for our graduating high school seniors, or their college graduation rates (under 18% of our students obtain a bachelor’s degree), Westbury students continually rank close to last of all Long Island school districts. Most importantly, we fail to get over 70% of our students to state proficiency levels.
With the entrance of three new board trustees in July of 2016, we brought an intensified sense of urgency to ensure the actions of the district reflect the desires of our community to become an academically competitive educational institution while ensuring sound and prudent financial stewardship. As the active governing body of the school district, our decisions and actions must reflect our responsibilities to set specific and measurable academic goals, to promote and demand values and beliefs that support high academic success, to hold the superintendent accountable for achievements and leadership of the school district, to be kept fully informed in a timely manner of the financial state of our school district, to make prudent investment decisions and to negotiate balanced and realistic employment contracts within our financial resources. To move the district forward in an aggressive and positive direction, a change was needed immediately.
While I am legally limited to discuss specific details to the resignation of Dr. Lagnado, I can speak to the facts of her early retirement cost to the school district. It is important to highlight that each year most employees of the Westbury School District can accumulate deferred compensation, i.e., unused vacation and sick time. Every year the school districts accounts for the cost of the deferred compensation for all eligible employees. Dr. Lagnado’s retirement agreement included her accumulated deferred compensation of nearly $400,000. In fact, had she stayed through the five years of her employment contract, her accumulated deferred compensation would have been higher. To be clear, the current board could not change the amount of her accumulated deferred and retirement compensation. The rest of her retirement payment included the balance of her salary and other benefits agreed to by the prior school board seated in 2013. Very few school districts provide five year contracts to superintendents. If they do, it is mostly to proven and experienced superintendents. The current board is legally obligated to honor prior school district contracts, but does not have the obligation to continue them. Our treasurer as well as Dr. Lagnado, as the acting Business Manager, certified that our ability to fund operations would not be impacted by this accelerated retirement payment.
Moving forward, our board majority and more importantly our administrators support Mr. Eudes Budhai’s leadership during this transition. We intend to conduct a proper search for our next superintendent of schools. Our urgent focus is on immediate changes that will impact achievement, to ensure we have our community’s support to pass our budget and to earn your confidence that we are turning the corner on the future of our community. After all, it is ABout our Children and our Community’s future.
—Pedro A. Quintanilla, Westbury School District Board of Education trustee