UPDATED: District's Welcome for New School Chief Comes Under Scrutiny

A dinner event for district staff to meet the new superintendent has several parents protesting such a district expenditure.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 10 am to correct and clarify how a portion of the dinner bill was paid for by a trustee.

The turnout Tuesday night for Bayport-Blue Point residents to meet the newly hired district superintendent, Dr. Vincent Butera, was well attended by dozens of taxpayers and district staff but not every community member is happy on how the board of education welcomed the new school chief.

The community meet-and-greet, which followed a special board of education meeting to formally approve the hiring, was not without controversy as several parents said they are outraged that the district held a dinner at a Blue Point restaurant for staff and administrators to meet Butera prior to the community meeting.

Residents Rita Palma and Noel Feustel believe the BOE event at Blue was not an appropriate action given the budget constraints facing the district and last year's challenging budget process.

"It's outrageous," said Palma, who told Patch she intends to file Freedom of Information forms to determine the actual cost of the meal and the policy of the district regarding spenditures by the BOE on such events.

"I heard [from an administrator] it cost $2,600 for the meal. That's ridiculous given that we've cut programs and things for the students due to budget issues," she said during the meet-and-greet event.

Feustel was so irked by the dinner event that he and his wife went to Blue to determine that the event was being held and his wife took pictures of the event being held in the private dining area.

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"I think this is wrong and I wanted to come down here and find out if it was true," he said.

During the meet-and-greet a BOE member confirmed the final meal tab to Patch.

Trustee Bill Milligan, who was elected in May on a platform calling for deeper review of district spend and fiscal accountabiity, said he pre-paid for 10 of the meals, which was about one third of the final tab, upon arriving at the event and did so in a low-key manner.

"I came in and said hello and then talked with management staff to pay for the table I was sitting at. I did it pre-emptively," he said, explaining it was done before his knowlege of any Feustel's attendance at the restaurant. "I didn't say anyting as I did not want to make anyone else [at the dinner event] feel uncomfortable," he told Patch Tuesday morning.

When the Feustels arrived at Blue Board of Education President James March left the dinner event to talk with them in the bar area. He said that while the dinner event was not unanimously endorsed by all the trustees, as some believed such a expenditure may be viewed as sending the wrong message, he believed it was an appropriate event.

"I defend the decision to provide the opportunity for the new superintendent to meet with administrators and the board," he told Patch. "It was appropriate and I think necessary for everyone to meet him and have a chance to talk."

BluePointer October 03, 2012 at 06:06 PM
They actually did an exercise during the last budget cycle to determine if they could save money on supplies such as paper, paper clips, etc. So, while it is a relatively small amount, it is relevant. The critical point that was made above is that the budget is there to support the education of the kids, not the culinary delights of the BOE.
NotWhoYouThinkIAm October 03, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Meanwhile the middle school needs more cafeteria tables to replace two tables that broke last year and the DO squashed their purchase, deeming it an unneccessary expense. I bet those two tables are a drop in the bucket in relation to a $2600 dinner tab! Oh, but wait, it gets better: a parent believed that the mailboxes in the middle school main office don't look good (they're wooden cubbies, fully functional, nothing unsightly) and brought that to a board member's attention and THOSE got ordered ASAP.
Rita Palma October 04, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Vito- So what are you saying- as long as any single expenditure comprises only a small percentage of the budget, it's OK if it's a frivolous and self-indulgent waste of money? Is that it? Did it occur to you that many people who earn far LESS than many people at that dinner paid the bill?
Vito October 04, 2012 at 01:23 AM
I am sure there are many little things that could and should be addressed, and understand that each dollar counts, but creating a hostile atmosphere or stalking board members to catch them in the act over minutiae like this or forcing people to count rubber bands and paper clips isn't going to create a good working environment or help solve the real issues that need to be addressed.
BluePointer October 04, 2012 at 11:11 AM
The lion share of the budget is salaries and benefits, so yes it does make sense to identify and eliminate those other expenses in the remaining funds that do not support the education of the kids. The bigger questions is how much of this is going on (wining and dining) that we don't know about, and how come it is not specified in the budget?
inawe October 04, 2012 at 11:18 AM
inawe October 04, 2012 at 11:25 AM
Vito I could not agree more.have you looked around at our town and the people who live in it. It is such a wonderful community. ?. Do you really think YOU set a great example to our incoming Sup. Secondly, are your gurus on the board still doing as they promised? Maybe you should focus your energy in a positive light. We are all for the children, but come on, stop the hostility. It sets such a bad VIBE in our towns.
Rita Palma October 04, 2012 at 11:29 AM
So if there are many little things that should be addressed, then our reps should address them and see how it all adds up. Goodness knows they discussed $150 for a Chamber of Commerce membership ad nauseam. You use extreme words to paint an exaggerated picture (hostile,stalking, forcing). This is a lame attempt to justify a weak point and an indefensible action. We SHOULD keep careful tabs on the money collected to educate our kids. That is correct and proper- especially these days. We should NEVER neglect to hold those charged with spending our money accountable. Concede this point, Vito. You are flat-out wrong and off-base- similar to the person who speaks for the Board. Let's pray his statements were not unanimously approved.
Vito October 04, 2012 at 01:18 PM
The article stated someone "was so irked by the dinner event that he and his wife went to Blue to determine that the event was being held and his wife took pictures of the event being held in the private dining area." What word would you feel better describes such behavior? I happen to think that this fits the definition of stalking quite well. Was there some evidence that all those attending would deny this event happened? Was there really a need to enter a private room to document things? It all seems very childish and unnecessary to me. As for what constitutes "lame", I feel worrying about nickels and dimes and alienating people in the process does little to solve the million dollar issues that face this and most districts. Please don't mistake me for someone who feels all is well and that we have already solved all our problems, as that is not the case. We just disagree on how to go about effecting change. We have a new superintendent, and his initial impression of the district is this nonsense. Well played. I am sure the spirit of cooperation and understanding will benefit greatly from this little passion play.
Vito October 04, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Actually, what I was trying to communicate is that one must keep things in proper perspective. Mentioning displeasure or disapproval at this expenditure would certainly be an appropriate topic for discussion at the next public forum. Rushing over to the restaurant where the event was being held and leaving the new superintendent with the impression he has taken the helm of a ship full of oddballs isn't a way to make a good first impression or engender a feeling of good will and cooperation.
Kathy Heinlein October 04, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Yes, a 30 minute discussion about the Chamber of Commerce, when in fact the Chamber doesn't charge not for profits their membership.
Steven Feldini October 04, 2012 at 02:11 PM
At least SOMEBODY in this district gets to go on a field trip.
Maria October 04, 2012 at 02:19 PM
They need to be tightening their belt. Budget cuts were made at the expense of the students and parents but yet they can go out and hold a dinner at an expensive restaurant. I get the reason for business dinners but if the community needs to tighten their belts and watch their spending in order to pay their taxes than the administration needs to do so as well. They could have easily held the dinner at their office and had it catered.
Sandi October 04, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Nice the way this board spends our tax money! Who the heck is March kidding, does he think we are all gullible! March needs to go!
Yvonne Kleine October 04, 2012 at 05:00 PM
I agree Sandi, Mr. March does not exhibit common sense when it comes to handling taxpayer money. I am not concerned about the new superintendent's impressions of us. He is our employee and should be concerned with our impressions of him. Calling people who have freely given of their time and energy to fighting waste and corruption in our towns "oddballs"? Catching the board with it's pants down and it's forks raised qualifies as "whistle blowing" in my book. As an administrator, I'm sure Dr. Butera is more than acquainted with the passions that school board issues can inflame in any district. If Dr. Butera is uncomfortable with this, he can choose to work elsewhere. There are many fine, highly educated fish in the scholastic sea.
Vito October 04, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Having attended many meetings in this and other towns I have lived in my many years on this island of ours I have seen discussion of changes that would save districts huge sums of money offhandedly dismissed. Instead we all sit around wringing our hands at a few hundred dollars here, a few thousand dollars there, and ignore the fact that the redundancy, overlap, and waste associated with our foolish insistence that we have have so many separate districts on Long Island costs each and every district millions each year. So forgive me for thinking we are ignoring the 800 pound gorilla when doggedly pursuing such minor items. This and so many matters that seem to occupy the attention of many, who I am sure have good intentions, are the equal of rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. To me, this is just another example of such chair moving.
Vito October 04, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Perhaps oddballs wasn't polite, but I could have done much worse! I simply feel that "catching the board" didn't really need such a cloak and dagger approach.
BP mom October 04, 2012 at 07:54 PM
I agree that going to the restaurant and taking pictures was a little extreme and on the borderline of stalking, some people are so passionate that they go a little overboard sometimes, however, the dinner was inappropriate on district money when the other staff and students have and continue to loss so much. Teachers aren't even given a losey cup of coffee at meetings and they are the ones giving all for our kids but administration and the board get dinner at Blue on us, wtf!
BP mom October 04, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Plus these administrators are making large, over inflated salaries they could have afforded there own dinner, they should have all chipped in...if I wasn't paying so much in school tax then maybe my family could afford to eat a Blue too lol
Yvonne Kleine October 04, 2012 at 08:37 PM
The State Comptroller's Office has stated that this dinner was an illegal use of taxpayer funds. As for your other comments, they are really so much "kill the messenger." The Feustel's went there openly, no "cloak and dagger" was involved. This cannot be said of Mr. March and the other attendees, who held this "meeting" in what they believed was secret. Remember too, that someone who was unhappy about the dinner had to have tipped them off in the first place. We should thank the Feustel's and Rita Palma for having the guts to question this event instead of deriding them as "stalkers". Scorning people who are helping to keep those who have access to our money on the straight and narrow is the wrong reaction. When you serve the public, you must avoid even the hint of impropriety. Do I think the attendees realized the dinner was unethical, illegal? I think they should have. Board members should pay the balance out of their individual pockets and refrain from doing anything this stupid again.
BBP Education October 04, 2012 at 09:18 PM
So what have we all learned from this class? That's right..... Nothing
Sandi October 04, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Well said!
Sandi October 04, 2012 at 10:07 PM
I feel "all-monies" should go to the students education and not for anything else.
Sandi October 04, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Yvonne... people do miss the point...this superintendent's works for us! I do not care if someone was taking pictures or not! They can do as they please, it's called freedom and they were annoyed and had every right to be so! And yes, if Dr. Butera feels uncomfortable work somewhere else. This was just senseless spending, and poor judgement! I do not want any of my tax money going for anything else except for the students benefit!
BluePointer October 05, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I think we learned that the BOE does not communicate to the community every expenditure they make.
jane October 05, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I support the BOE taking the Mr.Burtera to dinner at a LOCAL place with a pre-fix cost of $22, with money being donated by BLUE to show how we all can chip into the cost factors and then the new BOE members chipping in also. Let me ask you this? does any support the PTA? Or buy their teachers gifts at the end of the year? volunteer breakfast at the schools is better then thanksgiving at my house. But why is the community so upset when the BOE spends money on a dinner to Welcome the major person who will be stearing our ship? I know why< Because Rita Palma and Noel Fusteal put a twisted spin on it. As if everything these people do is wrong. For all the hard work and time and talent I for one will Donate $20 to cover a dinner or 7. I am proud of the people who work, volunteer and live here..I dont feel the need to spy. In the past, the school pays and each BOE gets a bill for dinner and we would get a statement and pay it back. But heck what do I know? except my vlounteer job always cost me money! lol NOTHING wrong with that!
Sarah October 05, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Oh Jane, PTA money comes from voluntary membership and fundraisers. You should know this having been a part of the PTA. Our school district is a not for profit organization supported by all the taxpayers in our town. If this tab for dinner had been picked up by the taxpayers of the district it would have been an ILLEGAL use of taxpayer money, according to the STATE OF NEW YORK!!! It is a lovely gesture but, ILLEGAL. We are not a Fortune 500 company. This is not the proper use of our tax dollars when the students have to do without because of budgetary constraints. Perhaps the BOE needs to reexamine the legalities involved in spending funds from our tax budget.
jane October 05, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Sarah I am aware of that. What I am saying is PTA does nice things for teachers etc. But it very seldom has a negitive impact as this. When the PTA tips a event person that is also a gift of public funds. and illegal. Or when they bring in food that is homemade. etc etc. I am not saying one or the other is correct WHAT I am saying is that until the facts are known and the questions asked why do the same people always assume the worst. Like I said the BOE would go to a dinner and then have to pay it back. It cost money all the time, and some of these programs were mandatory! . The school is also not for profit and has to follow the same rules, But I don't see anyone following PTA taking pictures. thats my input. I didn't agree when we followed the rules of PTA and stopped giving gifts to the custodians. I felt it was cheesy we work them beoynd there scope of work and our programs depend on them yet we weren't allow by law to gift them anything other then left over pizza. I dont know how it is now but I am sure that if gifts are happening it won't make the patch.
BBP Family October 08, 2012 at 09:46 PM
I am troubled by all of this and would like to explain why. Obviously, based on reading this and the responses, this is being populated by intelligent, passionate people. However, that being said, does everyone realize the job of the BOE and Supt.? It's to craft a fair school budget and get it passed. Is it for personal gain? No. It's for the exact reason we are all passionate...without a passed budget, our kids' education will take the direct hit. So, I write today to ask that we back off, welcome the new Supt., and acknowledge that we move past a $22 pp dinner welcoming the person responsible for our children's future. I am concerned, not about individual BOE members, but about this BOE, as a whole. All BOE members attend regular, mandatory trainings. So, why are we pinning this "mistake" on one person, and then watching a fractured, panicky, and maybe confused BOE reach into their pockets to cover the bill...or maybe it was their own tails? This is a terrible first impression for BBP to make on our new Supt. I hope this BOE can pull it together and be more united in their focus on what they are there to do...give us a budget we can vote yes on.
Katy Chandler October 08, 2012 at 11:07 PM
All of this bickering back and forth has gotten out of hand! Everyone has there opinion of course. But some are taken it too personally! The replies to one another is over the top! This is the last time for me ever making a comment on the patch!


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