Statement from the Board of Trustees of the Westbury Union Free School District

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As the Board of Education of the Westbury Union Free School District, it is our responsibility to provide our community with an accounting of our recent actions and to inform you of our plans for the immediate future for our district. We believe a strong relationship with our community is established through providing transparency to our decisions and being accountable to those decisions. We acknowledge that there are differing opinions amongst trustees regarding the actions and our path forward as a district.
Thus, as we reference the “Board” in this statement, it refers to the majority of our trustees.

A summary of our actions and leadership change

At the request of the Board, our superintendent of schools, Dr. Mary Lagnado, resigned her employment for retirement purposes. Dr. Lagnado was our employee for over 16 years, 1 year as interim superintendent, and the last 3.5 years as our superintendent of schools. We acknowledge her accomplishments and service to our district and wish her success in her future endeavors.

We have appointed Mr. Eudes Budhai as our interim superintendent. He served as our assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the past four years. Mr. Budhai has been an educator for 25 years and has served for over 14 years in our district as a director and assistant superintendent. We have full confidence in Mr. Budhai to lead us through this transition.

The action taken by the Board was to ensure our belief that the performance of the district would improve. The financial impact of this arrangement was thoroughly vetted and understood by the Board and actions were taken to minimize any adverse fiscal impact to the district. We believe there will be a minimal financial impact to our budget to enable this leadership change.

For the 2017-2018 school year, we have adopted a budget of approximately $145 Million. This is inclusive of a property tax levy of approximately $77 Million that reflects an increase of nearly $1.5 million or a 1.97% increase over the previous year’s tax levy. This figure is less than the allowable state “tax cap” of 2.3%, a figure that was calculated and set prior to Dr. Lagnado’s resignation (reported by Newsday, March 17, 2017).

Why are changes being made? Why now?
These changes were made to address our belief that we needed to shift the performance culture of our district. The ability of our district to generate dramatically improved academic outcomes from our tax levy and state dollars is our principle objective. Here are just a few significant reasons why we arrived at our decision:

Academic Performance of Our Schools
• Our students continue to struggle to reach standard levels of proficiency and to graduate
college-ready. Our proficiency levels for students in grades 3-8 in English Language Arts
and Mathematics are 23% and 21% respectively; only 18% of our seniors graduate
college-ready as per NYSED standards. We did not, in our opinion, see evidence of this
pattern changing.

• Within the past two years, two of our elementary schools were designated as “Local
Assistance Plan” schools. Our middle school is currently designated as a “Focus” school
by New York State under the federal education funding law. A Focus school is a federal
Department of Education designation of schools that are among the lowest performing in
the State for an accountability subgroup and that are not improving.

Ability to Create Change in Expectations and Performance
• Our ability to make critical decisions about how to use our funds to manage our operating
costs was impaired by, we believed, not receiving timely analysis of our short-term and
long-term fiscal outlook.

• The proposed strategies to enable a shift in student achievement and to better engage
our community were not, in our opinion, enacted over the past seven months.
The decision to transform the district’s culture was, in our view, not evident. A culture of what we perceived to be low expectations continued to exist within our district. This culture persisted before the appointment of Dr. Lagnado. To us, a belief system still seemed to exist of lower expectations.

Why now and why the need for a payout?
In 2013, the prior Board of Education negotiated an employment contract with Dr. Lagnado that would span 5 years, with certain annual and deferred compensation elements. This contract also provided that the Board seated in fiscal year 2016-2017 must decide whether to renew this contract prior to June 30, 2017. As stated, the Board desired to go in a new direction and made this decision prior to the deadline.

• The Board contemplated 3 options for the timing of this change and ultimately determined
to change leadership now to stimulate what we hope will be an immediate shift in our
culture.

• The separation agreement to pay the contractual salary and deferred compensation for
15 months to Dr. Lagnado totaled approximately $773,000.
o Nearly 50% of this payment was deferred compensation which was due to her in
any event upon leaving the district. As with other deferred obligations for our
employees, this amount has always been accounted for within our reserves.
o The Board believes there will be savings of more than $240,000 from not hiring a
4th assistant superintendent to handle achievement and accountability that had
been in Dr. Lagnado’s plans/budget.

• Therefore, inclusive of the accrual for deferred compensation and cost savings of not
creating another administrative position, we estimate a minimal impact to our budget.

Our path forward
Our focus is to work with the Administration on several immediate changes to initiate a renewed focus on achievement, fiscal accountability, and to ensure the most pressing operational issues are well-managed.

Here are a few actions to be taken in the next few months:

• Conduct and complete an appropriate national search for superintendent of schools.
While prior searches were initiated, none were completed during the past 17 years.

• Implement specific and actionable achievement goals for our students, with particular
focus on students who have been within our district for five or more years of
uninterrupted attendance.

• Reinitiate the search for a full-time Assistant Superintendent of Business. Until then, we
believe we have competent staff already in place to support our financial and business
operations.

• Initiate the suggestions and strategies for family engagement proposed last fall.

• The Board has approved the leasing of the Nassau Community College Annex — a
building that can accommodate over 400 students as of September 2017! This will
immediately secure space for our high school students.

• Double the capacity of our magnate program at the Cradle of Aviation and enable some
8th grade students to attend courses in there. Aside from the instructional benefits this
action will help alleviate space constraints within the high school.

• Convene a community advisory committee for capital projects to thoroughly review the
space issue in our schools; review old and new options/strategies that could be available
for the district.

We trust this statement answers some of your questions about the pathway forward for your school district. The Board invites you to attend our meetings each month, our PTA meetings, our parent engagement sessions, and events/activities at our individual schools. We believe that together we will be able to achieve our mission to make the Westbury Union Free School District an academically strong district.

Sincerely,
Board of Education of the Westbury Union Free School District

 

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