The prospective donation of 30 iPads to the Denton Avenue School sparked controversy at the Herricks Board of Education meeting last Thursday night.
When the board considered approval of the donation from the Denton Avenue Parent Teacher Association - valued at $17,640 - board Trustee-elect Brian Hassan raised an objection.
“It creates an unfair advantage, a competitive advantage from an academic point of view,” he said of the proposed donation to one of three elementary schools in the Herricks district.
Hassan said if he was a voting board member - which he will be next month - he would vote against accepting the donation.
Maria Bono, co-president of the Herricks Council of PTAs, said she also thought the donation was unfair because the PTA at the Searingtown School lacks the resources to make the sort of donation the Denton Avenue PTA proposed.
Board Trustee Jim Gounaris acknowledged her concern, but said he thinks any contribution of technology is “great.”
“I think we ought to find ways of coordinating our needs in the district,” Gounaris said.
Herricks Superintendent of Schools John Bierwirth said the perception of the other elementary school PTAs is that the Searingtown School PTA has more money than the other PTAs.
“The way to handle this is for the PTAs to be talking to each other,” Bierwirth said.
Board Trustee Peter Grisafi said “something is going to be unfair” about any donation, but he said the board doesn’t want to see any of the schools “build up an unfair advantage.”
Hassan said, “It’s hard to say ‘No’.”
“I don’t know that there’s an answer that will be acceptable to everybody in this room,” said board Trustee Sanjay Jain.
Bono said she objected because the PTAs have a tacit understanding that donations to the schools for educational needs are out of bounds.
“It’s technically not supposed to happen because of the inequity. I am concerned that it’s going to go beyond a group of iPads,” she said, but added it would be “silly not to accept” the iPads.
Bierwirth said he had attempted to mediate situations where perceived inequities in donations had sparked disagreements between the PTAs in the past. But, he said, “I’ve got to believe that people from three elementary schools can talk to each other.”
Board President Christine Turner said there have been inequities in donations made to the schools in the district “going way back.” But, citing the need “to have a dialogue,” she said the PTAs didn’t have as much money to make contributions years ago as they do today.
“It’s sometimes hard to say that everybody’s got to have the same thing,” Turner said.
But Bono repeated that the PTAs are supposed to make donations unrelated to education, such as playground equipment.
“There is a list of things we can and cannot buy,” she said.
Turner said in past years, the PTA Council sponsored the sole annual fundraising event, a dinner to raise money for college scholarships. But she said over the past decade, the respective school PTAs began holding their own fundraising dinners and the various booster clubs, for athletics and other activities, have done likewise.
She suggested that Bono propose the PTAs hold one fundraising dinner and divide the revenue. Bono said she had made that suggestion on behalf of the Searingtown PTA and received a very clear answer.
The response from members of the Denton Avenue and Center Street PTAs was “Are you crazy?”
“You can’t penalize them for working too hard. But it can become excessive,” Gounaris said.
Turner said she had long felt there was “always a Catch-22 with this because people were always donating stuff.”
In the case of the iPads for Denton Avenue, the board voted unanimously to accept the donation.
In other developments:
• The Herricks board voted to accept a bid from Jamaica Ash & Rubbish Removal Co. for garbage and rubbish removal at the district schools at a cost of $43,150 for the 2012-13 school year. Jamaica was one of two bidders to provide service, Bierwirth said.
• The board voted against offering a school breakfast program at the district’s three elementary schools and to sixth graders, based on Bierwirth’s recommendation. A survey among parents of students at the three elementary schools and sixth graders revealed that more than 80 percent of them indicated their children would not participate if the program was offered.