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Questions Raised Over District's Handling of Marion Carll Farm Lawsuit

Commack School District has spent about $14,000 in efforts to prevent residents from interfering in the ongoing litigation.


Commack residents and school officials exchanged heated words over district's handling of the Marion Carll Farm lawsuit at Thursday night's board meeting. 

Two of the four residents who filed a motion to intervene on Commack School District's behalf in the lawsuit over possession of the historic 9-acre farm questioned the Board of Education's decision to oppose them. Plaintiffs Vito J.Cottone and James Tampellini openly questioned the board's decision process and the cost.  

"My bill is not on tonight's agenda, but it's approximately $14,000," said Eugene Barnosky, attorney for Commack School District. 

The $14,000 was spent by school officials to fight four residents - Vito J. Cottone, Daniel Fusco, Arthur J. Reilly Sr., and James Tampellini - who filed a  brought forth by Carll's heirs against Commack School District for possession of the nine-acre historic farm. The residents want to raise additional legal arguments in defense of keeping Marion Carll Farm in the district's possession in court, calling district's defense "a sham." 

A more exact figure for the overall cost of defending against tseeking to reclaim possession of the historic farm have not made available by Commack School District. 

"You spent $14,000 to oppose taxpayers who are intent on helping this district defend a lawsuit, but you don't have the money for this poor kid's club. That wasn't in the budget," Tampellini said. "Where did you get the money from the budget to pay Mr. Barnosky?"

Mary Jo Masciello, Board of Education president, refused to answer calling it an "unfair" question and that litigation must be handled in a legal manner. 

"I would also disagree with you that you are putting yourself in a position to help the district," Masciello said to Tampellini and his co-plaintiffs. 

A handful of Commack residents have raised questions at the last two Board of Education meetings about how the trustees came to the decision to fight resident's motion to intervene. Bruce Ettenburg asked at the Aug. 30 meeting if a motion or vote was made. 

"No special motion of the board is required. A motion of the board is required to initiate litigation. General counsel has the authority to defend," Barnosky answered. 

The district's attorney said he drafted papers in opposition to the Commack resident's request to intervene in the Marion Carll Farm lawsuit, then sent the drafts of his suggested action to Board of Education members and the district's administration. All board trustees unanimously to oppose the taxpayers' request, according to Masciello. 

Superintendent Donald James explained under New York State law, no formal vote was needed just a consensus. 

"State law, in many respects, governs what must be voted on publicly. Items on the agenda must appear on the agenda, other matters that don't require a public vote," James said. 

Examples of issues that must undergo a public vote include the annual school budget, the sale of a piece of district property, and any changes to transportation, according to James. 

"Why have you not put up to the Commack residents whether they even want Marion Carll Farm," Cottone asked board members. 

Both Masciello and Deborah Guber, vice president of Commack's Board of Education, said the district has made multiple efforts to reach out to Commack community with little response. 

"This is my own, personal humble opinion:I don't know that the issue is what to do with the property, but the issue is how to do it? Masciello and yourself [Cottone] may very well agree what we should do with the property, but how do we pay for it," James said. 

Both parties, the taxypayers and the school district, are awaiting court's decision on whether Commack residents have the right to intervene in the lawsuit. 

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John Gruber September 17, 2012 at 03:07 PM
The mind of a BOE member: How can we come up with new ways to waste people's money
pbug56 September 17, 2012 at 04:20 PM
I also don't like how for so many years that pay rates have gone up at far higher levels then that of inflation. Even people getting a pay raise each year have not been able to keep up with the tax increase; people on fixed incomes or unemployed have been badly hurt.
MM September 17, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Ask Ms Masciello if she thinks that the BOE should disclose when the distrist hires friends/family of BOE members. This was asked three years ago at BOE meetings and the BOE refused. I wonder why ?
knee jerk September 18, 2012 at 09:00 PM
GM, you don't think the board is trying to hide something, do you? To answer charges of nepotisim is very complicated, starting with geneology. Let them trace their family's tree and give them a few more years.
ergodic September 28, 2012 at 10:12 PM
One of the above comments indicates that (NYS) test scores in CUFSD are at an all time high, and spending/pupil is on par with surrounding districts. The test scores may (or may not) be at an "all time high", but overall ELA test scores do not compare well with neighboring districts; ditto for spending/pupil. Refer to my three comments on the August 1 blog titled "Commack Holds Steady in NYS Test Scores" for supporting information. Also note that no school in the Commack S.D. was identified as a "Reward" school (for high achieving or high progress) in the recent NYSED announcement - though 249 schools in 163 districts were so designated. Some of the nearby schools cited included: John Glenn H.S. (Elwood), Happauge H.S., Miller Place H.S., Smithtown H.S. - East & West. Further, the idea that the BOE president would recieve credit for student performance on test scores seems a novel concept.. .


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