Board of Ed member bound for points west

JULIE LANE PHOTO Board of Education member Elizabeth Melichar resigned her position this month to move to Arizona.
Board of Education member Elizabeth Melichar resigned her position this month to move to Arizona.

One year into her third term as a member of the Shelter Island Board of Education, Elizabeth Melichar submitted her resignation this month and set her sights on a new chapter in her life, joining her son in Phoenix, Arizona.

Her job as an administrator at Eastern Suffolk BOCES was coming to an end, and based on retirement policies, her ability to continue working in the New York State school system would have limited her income.

But more important were personal factors. “We’re not guaranteed tomorrow,” she said about a guiding principle that motivated her to want to live near her son Michael Melichar. She’s also found in Phoenix a peace and tranquility vital to her sense of well being. “I just love it,” she said.

She hasn’t secured employment in Phoenix, but assumes she will continue to use her skills as an educator, but won’t have the limits on income that staying in New York State would have imposed.

Ms. Melichar has enjoyed her many years here, she said, and has relatives and friends she’ll be back to visit. For now, she’s inviting everyone to visit her in her new found oasis.

What she won’t miss is the snow, she said, pulling out a picture in which she’s bundled in a heavy winter coat and boots.

Ms. Melichar was elected to the Board of Education just a month before her son Michael graduated from Shelter Island High School. Although she had prior interest, she preferred to start her term after he was out of the district so her board decision wouldn’t reflect on him in any way.

She opted to serve on the BOE because she thought there were some things that needed attention in the district.

The BOE sets policy and oversees finances, developing an annual budget and monitoring spending. Most issues can be resolved by referencing the district’s policy manual and if an answer isn’t in the manual, that’s an area that has to be developed, she said, explaining why she has dedicated her time to helping keep the policy manual updated and working with the district’s shared decision-making team.

When she ran for her third term in May 2017, she said, “I invest in every single child as if they were my own.”

In her 38 years as an educator, she’s been a special education teacher, an assistant principal and principal before taking the job with BOCES.

Looking back on her service, she said she’s pleased with what’s been accomplished and urges parents sending their children to off-Island private schools to consider what’s happening at their local school. “This is a new day and people need to give Shelter Island a new look,” she said.

“We hit the jackpot with Christine,” she said about first year Superintendent Christine Finn. “She is all in for the kids.

Ms. Melichar is pleased the district is offering more opportunities for students to get off the Island and interact with the wider world. Some have only the friends they’ve had since childhood and interacting with new people is a skill they need. When they graduate, they should be able to function independently, to hold jobs and to make new friends.

She’s sorry not to have been able to move the district toward increasing the pay for substitute teachers and frustrated with the state’s 2 percent tax cap, noting, “Our hands are tied financially.”

The district has control of only about 10 to 15 percent of its budget with other costs mandated, but not paid for by the state or federal governments. With rising costs of health insurance premiums, salaries and many contractual costs, it’s increasingly difficult to stay within that state tax cap, Ms. Melichar said.

Still, thanks to the dedication of a unique teaching staff, the education Shelter Island students are getting should find them well prepared for future challenges.

“We will miss her immensely,” Board President Thomas Graffagnino said. “She immersed herself 100 percent in the work of the board.”

The board is asking for resumes from people interested in an appointment to the board, he said.