The April 8 Rye City Board of Education meeting was anything but routine.
By Sarah Varney
The April 8 Rye City Board of Education meeting was anything but routine. A group of nearly 200 teachers, led by Rye Teachers Association President Jaime Zung, spoke out in protest about district’s treatment of the two remaining re-assigned teachers: Carin Mehler and Dana Coppola.
Zung began by stating that he has been completely quiet since the beginning of the situation, last May, because he trusted the District to carry out the necessary process required under NYSED rules and then resolve it. At that time, he said he was led to believe by the District that the improper coaching allegations were most likely due to misunderstandings and that the teachers would soon be cleared of any wrongdoing. The situation with the two other teachers reassigned for the same allegations has been resolved. Gail Topol was allowed to return to her classroom at Osborn School and Shannon Gold resigned her position at Milton School.
Neither Mehler nor Coppola has been formally charged with any wrongdoing in the case. Instead, the two were reassigned to work in a small room stamping out-of-date textbooks. Recently the two teachers have been separated and are now based in different district offices. Mehler is based at Midland School, and Coppola has been given a desk at District headquarters at 411 Theall Road.
Zung decried the District’s treatment of the two and the length of time that has passed since the May 2013 reassignments. “After almost a year, there have yet to be charges filed, but they are still trying to get parental permission to interview the children [who were in the classrooms at the time]. He implied that the District is caught in a face-saving exercise that makes reaching any conclusion to the cases all but impossible.
“I’m asking you [the District and Board] to swallow your pride. It’s time to switch gears and change your lesson plan,” he said.
A stream of Milton teachers and parents rose to speak in Ms. Coppola’s defense. Many described her diligence, dedication, and her support of colleagues. Coppola, who was sitting in the audience at the meeting, was reduced to tears several times during the discussion.
While a full contingent of Osborn teachers was at the meeting to support Ms. Mehler, none of them spoke. Mehler has filed a $2 million lawsuit against 11 defendants, including six Board members and Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez.
While most of the speakers in Ms. Coppola’s defense detailed the day-to-day aspects of her absence, several spoke of the damage the situation is causing to the relationship between the RTA and the District and Board.
Milton teacher Becky Ward said, “As a faculty member, I’m afraid for my job. It’s time for you to fix this.”
Osborn parent Anne Shrock spoke to the morale issue from her perspective. She walks her children to school most mornings and said it’s obvious to parents that morale is low. “The atmosphere at the school is so completely different than it was at this time last year,” she said.
Morale among Rye City taxpayers may also decrease if consumers are hit with the proposed utility tax.
A proposed utility tax is under consideration to help balance the current projected budget, which now totals $79,470,000. The contribution from property taxes is projected to be $69,989,093 based on a 1.64 percent tax levy increase. But it’s the gap between what’s coming in and what the District is asking for, which is now $3,704,778, that needs closing. Additional state aid of $96,000 received earlier this month decreased the gap slightly. The utility tax would add $990,000 of revenue.
Board member Ed Fox believes that higher property taxes might turn out to be less of a financial burden for property owners than a utility tax. He spoke in favor of a tax cap override vote to close the now $3,704,778 budget gap. Because property taxes are deductible, most property owners would feel less of a financial pinch from an override than a utility tax, Fox said.