Wyandanch's outgoing school-board majority has pushed through a new three-year, $570,000 pay package for its superintendent -- setting the stage for a potential confrontation with a new majority that takes over next month.
Superintendent Pless Dickerson's new contract will pay $186,000 during the next school year, starting July 1, with 3 percent raises each subsequent year. The measure passed late Tuesday on a 4-3 vote, with all three board members who will form part of the next majority voting no.
State authorities worry that Wyandanch's new board leaders will try to buy out Dickerson -- an expense they say Long Island's poorest district can ill afford. A former superintendent, Sherman Roberts, who received the equivalent of a $450,0000 buyout after being suspended by the old board, has said he hopes to regain his post as part of the next administration.
"It's so sad what's happened in several of our districts, with boards rotating in and out and superintendents coming and going," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, the Island's representative on the state Board of Regents. "People who are hurt the most are the students."
The point was underlined Tuesday, when Wyandanch's board laid off 15 teachers, including the high school's only art instructor. The move dismayed many students, who face the prospect of no art courses next fall.
"Where's the creativity and the color going to go without art?" asked Santos Bonilla, 17, an 11th-grader who spoke before the board.
The three board members voting no on Dickerson's contract -- Nancy Holliday, the Rev. Barry Sexton and Shirley Baker -- all complained they hadn't had time to adequately review the measure, even though they had attended a closed-door session where the package was drafted, before the public board meeting.
Holliday refused further comment when a reporter asked if she could work with Dickerson. The Rev. Ronald Allen Sr., who will join the board next month and supply the new majority's fourth vote, did not respond to the same question Thursday.
Dickerson voiced hope of working with the new board, adding that the appointment of a new assistant superintendent for business, Mark Schissler, should help keep the district's finances in order. "As long as we concentrate on what's beneficial for the kids, we'll be on the same page," he said.
Wyandanch in recent years has experienced frequent turnover in school administrations as rival board factions vie for control of patronage hiring. Albany officials say that instability hurts academic performance. A state report released earlier this month showed only 3 percent of Wyandanch's graduates earning advanced Regents diplomas last spring, compared with an Islandwide average of 50 percent.
Wyandanch officials have split publicly on the question of whether poor performance stems from mismanagement or lack of money. The district's property-tax base is the weakest on the Island. But with the help of state aid, the district this year spent $27,300 per student -- $4,200 more than the regional average.