With a referendum on a proposed bond issue less than two weeks away, Farmingdale School District officials continue to try to engage a general public that has been relatively quiet on the $38.5 million plan.
While proponents in the PTA and on the school board have been vocal in their efforts to rally support, a series of public meetings held by the district has been poorly attended by the general public, and not much has been heard from those who may oppose the plan.
The proposed bond would fund a major overhaul of the district's buildings, including classroom construction to alleviate overcrowding and address projected enrollment growth, space for initiatives such as full-day kindergarten, reducing elementary class size and moving the sixth grade to the middle school, as well as district-wide renovations to address maintenance needs. The district has a strong incentive from the state to move forward with the bond this year, because state building aid is at an all-time high - close to 60 percent - and would bring the cost to the taxpayers down to about $16 million.
School district administrators and school board members have been noting, both at the public meetings and through mailings to residents, that the educational imperatives for the bond are strong, and that its outcome will have a significant impact on students. "For those children who are in the pre-school years, it will have the greatest influence on their lives. Even more than on the children who are in our schools right now," Gerard W. Dempsey, Jr., superintendent of Farmingdale Schools said in a recent interview.
If the bond is approved, the following would be the program implementation timeline: September 2001 - implementation of full-day kindergarten in all four elementary schools; September 2002 - sixth grade students from all four elementary schools move to new sixth grade wing in Howitt Middle School, elementary classes being conducted in small spaces move to full-size classrooms; September 2003 - additional sections added to the elementary schools to reduce class size in kindergarten through third grade.
Dempsey noted that the goal of the ongoing public meetings and mailings is public awareness. "The goal of all of this is to try to be as open as possible about the complex issues here," he said.
Public meetings that have already taken place consisted of the following: (Districtwide Facilities) Sept. 27 - sixth grade move to Howitt, Sept. 29 - H.S. Renovations, Districtwide Facilities; (School Building Meetings) Sept. 15 - Bond Overview presented in Albany Ave. All Purpose Room and Woodward Parkway Auditorium, Sept. 21 - Bond Overview presented in Northside All Purpose Room and Saltzman East Memorial Auditorium, evening of Oct. 7, in Howitt Auditorium - Elementary Issues - Full-Day Kindergarten, Reduced Class Size, morning of Oct. 7, in the meeting room of the Farmingdale Public Library - Bond Referendum Overview. The public Hearing for the Bond Referendum will take place on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m.
In addition to sponsoring the meetings, the district is aiming to increase voter registration. Voter registration for the Oct. 19 referendum is open until Oct. 14. Residents have been encouraged to register at either the meetings, or at the District Clerk's office during school hours. According to Barbara Horsley, assistant superintendent for administration and transportation, a special registration night will also take place on Oct. 12, from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the lobby of Howitt Middle School. She noted that in order to participate in the referendum, one must be registered to vote in county and school elections, and have exercised the right within the past 4 years, or register now. For further information about how to register to vote on the bond, one may call the district clerk, Josephine Murray at 752-6652.
The $38.5 million bond proposal, which consists of construction sites on every campus in the district, includes the following:
-New classrooms, which are needed to address enrollment growth, create full-day kindergarten in all four elementary schools and reduce elementary class size to around 20.
-Learning environments for special services, such as speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, corrective math and music.
-About 30 classrooms would be added in the elementary schools, as would music rooms, elevators in all buildings currently without, and additional bathroom facilities for students.
-Expansion of the cafeteria at Northside.
- A large construction site at the Howitt Middle School is included in order to go forward with a plan to move the district's sixth graders from the elementary schools to the middle school. That site would consist of the construction of a sixth grade wing into Howitt East, 25 new classrooms, the conversion of four rooms currently used by the library for use in the middle school, a new library media center and a new music suite.
-Expansion of cafeteria space at the high school - work that will help accommodate growing enrollment which is a result of the booming population at the lower levels.
-Renovations to address the maintenance needs of the district's aging buildings. Schools districtwide would see replacement of old, inefficient boilers and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; upgrading of security and fire alarm systems in all buildings, electrical wiring to accommodate the increased demands of new technology in all buildings, and roof, door and window replacement. At the high school, the physical education locker rooms and offices would be replaced, as would the bleachers in the main gym, and Guildford Hall and the auditorium would be reconstructed.
The district expects to both borrow and pay back the funds over a 20-year period. Considering state building aid, the estimated annual impact on taxes for Oyster Bay residents with an average home assessed at $6,000, and Babylon residents with a similar home assessed at $4,051, would be $89.40.