Two conferences at Suffolk County Community College to spur high schoolers' interest in higher education, have been canceled over budget issues and a trustee's concern about engaging in a conflict of interest.
Trustee chairwoman Dafny Irizarry, who also is president of the Long Island Latino Teachers Association, which was running the events, said she withdrew a board resolution for funding of $12,000 for the events before the conferences came up for discussion at last week's trustees meeting.
Irizarry canceled the conferences, the first of which had been planned for Friday, and blamed a "misunderstanding" with college legal officials who drafted the resolution. "If there's any conflict, I understand the responsible thing for me to do is have it withdrawn," she said.
The community college has been involved in the conferences for at least four years, according to Irizarry. The school in the past only provided space for the events and panelists from college staff, officials said.
Irizarry said she began talks with the college over the summer about increasing its role in the conferences as a recruitment tool. The money would have provided $6,000 for each conference at the Brentwood campus to pay for food and other expenses including rental tables and chairs. The second conference was scheduled for Nov. 22.
About 500 to 600 students from 16 high schools had been scheduled to attend the daylong events that were to include panels of faculty, business people and community leaders to encourage Latino and other underserved teens to attend college.
"We help to host this event because we see a benefit that each student can realize," said Mary Lou Araneo, SCCC vice president. "Students are able to ask questions and receive meaningful answers from panelists who are successful . . . in their fields and eager to share their story of their career."
Araneo said the resolution was necessary because the expense was not included in the college budget and trustees needed to authorize the spending. She said Irizarry last month also asked SCCC legal officials to determine whether any ethical issues needed to be considered. Irizarry received the attorney opinion Oct. 7, but the college cannot make it public because of attorney-client privilege, Araneo said. Irizarry declined on Thursday to release the opinion.
Generally, a conflict issue can be resolved if a board member recuses himself or herself from voting on the issue, does not participate in the debate and leaves the meeting room, Araneo said. In cases involving a board chair, the vice chair could preside.
Irizarry said funding of the event in the past came from private contributions from outside donors such as Bethpage Federal Credit Union. She said she became aware of the issues too late to avoid cancellation of the conferences, and she hopes to revive them in the spring with private contributions.