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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Retired September 14, 2012 at 07:52 PM
This school board is something else...regardless of whether you agree or disagree whether the farm should be kept, no one can honestly defend the board's waste of money in attempting to keep the residents from helping defend the suit. C'mon..no money for kids' clubs or programs that cost a few hundred bucks to run but they can somehow find a way to pay the attorneys!!
Steve September 14, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Another case of the Board finding money to squander taking care of friends, giving raises and whatever else at the expense of the kids. Time to vote them out.
GLENN September 15, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Why should the board make any decisions that would benefit the Commack tax payers. They pay 2 community organizers to do a job that the PTA will do for free. What a big waste of money, we do not need to employee all of these "friends".
GM September 15, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Regarding the comment that "all Board members unanimously opposed taxpayers request." This is standard fare. The BOE has a pact among themselves, which undermines a democratic system, that they will vote in unison... on everything. They have confirmed this, and the public record verifies this fact. The community never knows how an elected member feels on any subject because of this pact. It robs the community of the transparency we seek in from the school board. They voted as "one" for: Hunderfund's package; Feltman's package; to hire Trustee's children; to fire teachers and keep friends on the payroll; and every piece of legislation before them. They vote as one and should be held accountable as one. Each needs to be challenged in May, when they can answer to the public on their voting record. If you believe one needs to go, then they all must go. - g. morgan
joanmiller September 15, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Annmarie what PTA do you have names will you be one have you bben to a PTA meeting its always the same people are you going to step up and do ot for FREE????
pbug56 September 15, 2012 at 08:09 PM
I'm sure Mary Jo believes she's right, but this is turning into a money pit as the district fights its own residents and the heirs; the concentration should be on conveying it to an organization that will do the right thing with it. This 'gift' to the district was never meant to profit the district, but to profit children. The district will never make its money back, and it will never make a profit - but it can continue to waste money by never ending court fights.
pbug56 September 15, 2012 at 08:13 PM
I've never understood how we got Dr. James or Hunderfund; IMHO 2 particularly mediocre supers. I especially don't understand why they were paid so much. Even if we could afford it - which we can't, the pay has just been way too high for what these people are supposed to do (but typically don't). I don't know how well Dr. Feltman did as super, but I thought he was excellent in his previous position in the district. But again, his package as super - just way too much money.
Andrea September 16, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Yes, Maryjo believes she is right about everything. I stopped attending board meetings because of her demeanor with other residents. She acts as if she is the mayor of Commack.
pbug56 September 16, 2012 at 04:38 AM
I've come to believe that we need term limits on school boards. Right now, the only way a candidate for the board can win is if that candidate is supported by Mary Jo and the rest of the board. Go against her, lose re-election or new election. She is absolutely convinced she is in the right. But she seems blind to the mediocrity of some, and immune to any real change.
shinbone September 16, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Kudo's to Mr. Tampellini. I wish he'd run for the board..as I'd vote for him in a heartbeat. I've been at some of these meetings and the way the Board goes about its business is very disturbing. There's never any discussions or anything..Masciello just reads off a script like the outcome of whatever is being proposed is already predetermined.. That's not the way its supposed to work. This district continues to keep its residents in the dark and the lack of transparency is unacceptable. Problem is that with few exceptions, Mr. Tampellini being one of them, the people of the community do not attend the meetings and speak up or out against what's going on. The Commack community need to become more involved or the Board's shenanigans are never going to end...
GM September 17, 2012 at 12:29 AM
We can easily get a term limits referendum at the next election in May. We need a petition with a few hundred signatures (a percentage of last vote turnout). We can end this nonsense pretty quickly.
knee jerk September 17, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Well said GM, but they have 'staggered terms" so you would have to vote them out over several elections, not all at once. This year for instance, Debbie Guber ran alone, and won. If you read the campaign literature supplied by ? (I think the "Commack Courier", sent out by the school district) never once did they call her an incumbant. This is to distance themselves from any unfavorable reaction from the voters.
knee jerk September 17, 2012 at 02:00 AM
What Masciello is doing is "talking down" to the residents at the meetings.This usually is done by a person that holds themselves in high esteem.What we need is new blood on that school board that won't go lockstep with each other, like the 19 year old in Syosset. While it will cost us (&me) money, I would say Commack has clearly violated the agreement with the Estate of the Carll Farm, and the property should revert back to the heirs, Commack getting nothing. I'd like to see this school board explain this incompetence.
knee jerk September 17, 2012 at 02:13 AM
joanmiller: Don't write when you are angry. I read your post several times and it changes, depending where you should have placed puncuation. However, no one does anything for free in this world. Most use "free" for stepping stones to more lucrative endevors, such as "PTA to school board to community activist, to concilman to conressman to senator to president" etc,etc (no one person in mind here, just a generalization)
pbug56 September 17, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Be careful, though, in the term limits initiative. To start with, by the time you have a petition going, her crew will have spread the word about how awful a change that would be. Run against her, and somehow, somewhere a smear campaign will pop up against the candidate.
Brian September 17, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Mary Jo has given this District stability and has guided it to its best days. State test scores and graduation rates are at an all time high, while spending per student is on par with surrounding Districts. Mary Jo has run unopposed, yet still stood outside the high school during election day to meet potential voters. Although you may disagree with her, she wins re-election because the Commack community supports her and the vision she has for this District. In response to Pbug56, the only smear campaign is what you are conducting to our elected Board President.
pbug56 September 17, 2012 at 04:53 AM
I happen to like her, and as I've already said, I'm sure that she believes in what she's doing. But I don't like dictatorships and a lack of tolerance for anyone who disagrees for her. I don't like that every board decision is decided long before board meetings and that the public has no input at all. I don't like idiots like the puppet Dr. James. I don't like that sports has long been more important then anything else. I don't like the very nasty IB program done at the expense of the AP program.
shinbone September 17, 2012 at 10:34 AM
@Brian - That's a joke...Stability? The only thing stable thing that Mary Jo and her cronies have done is the increase in salaries she has given to the district employees and raising of the school taxes!!!
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING September 17, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Brian....I have four words for you......."teach to the test." We have kids that do not learn how to learn, but rather how to answer standardized tests correctly. My child has never written a single research paper at Commack. Never has to "look up" information and explain what she found. Hell, she was never even taught to write in script. But ask her how many sharp number two pencils she needs for the next scantron test, and shes talking like Einstein. And if stability means education at any cost courtesy of budgets that consistently outspace the rate of inflation, then maybe a little instability is in order in Commack. Take a good look around.....enrollment is declining and there are a heck lot of homes up for sale.
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING September 17, 2012 at 01:54 PM
No surprise GM. Dissention in the ranks might threaten to derail the Gravy Train!!!!
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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