Question Executive Session

It was a brief but contentious meeting of the Montauk School Board on Tuesday afternoon. Carmine Marino and Dan Stavola, both of whom have children who are certified teachers, took issue with the board’s hiring process and executive sessions, which they said weren’t properly publicized.

The men spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, after the board had approved the hiring of two new teachers, Melissa Palumbo, who will teach elementary reading and math, and Shannon McLoughlin, a speech teacher.

Mr. Marino and Mr. Stavola were under the impression that there would be additional public discussion before the final hiring. Mr. Marino said, “That’s it?”

He wondered why the board went into executive session before the public portion of the meeting, during which attendees could have aired any issues they might have had with the hiring. On the school board’s website, the board meeting was announced as an executive session that started at 4:30 p.m., with the public meeting at 5:15.

Mr. Marino said that he is on two other boards, the board of commissioners of the Montauk Fire Department and the board of trustees of the Montauk Library, and said it is against state law to exclude the public from a meeting that would normally go into executive session after it opened publicly.

Diane Hausman, the school board president, said that the board did open publicly, as is required, before immediately going into executive session, but only did so in an effort to avoid making people sit outside the room, waiting for 45 minutes.

“We were told that no decisions would be made before an open meeting,” Mr. Marino said, adding that it should be the public’s choice whether to wait or not. He said it was a deceitful way for the board to operate. “You did a disservice to the public. It should be our choice whether to wait or not.”

Mr. Stavola took issue with the board’s hiring process, which he said should not involve Jack Perna, the district superintendent. He said that one of the 23 candidates was a good family friend of Mr. Perna’s who was invited back for a second interview. Mr. Perna should have recused himself from the process, he said, adding, “If I hadn’t cried foul, I’m sure that person would have been hired.”

The hiring process starts with an application submission, Mr. Perna said later. He weeds through the applications and decides who should be called in for interviews with the two hiring committees, one of which is made up of two teachers and two site-based committee members, and the other of two board members, Brigid Collins, who is the assistant principal, and himself. The candidates spend 20 minutes with each committee, and if the members feel a candidate should come back for a second interview, they call him or her back.

In retrospect, said Lee White, a board member, Mr. Perna should have excused himself from the process. Board members said that the superintendent has always been included in the hiring process, but agreed that maybe changes are due.

“This was tough,” Mr. Perna said after the meeting. “We haven’t hired a regular teacher in 11 years, and there were many young people out there competing for the few jobs available.” He said he would like to see the hiring process streamlined in the future.