The Herricks School Board Saturday meeting billed as a "Fireside Chat" quickly swelled out of the board room at the Herricks Community Center and into the auditorium.
With interim Herricks Superintendent Dr. Ronald Barnes at the helm the meeting quickly turned into a meeting focused on grade level reconfiguration. Dr. Barnes asked if the group wanted to hear his presentation, they did and it was followed by many, many questions from the gathered group made up of mostly senior citizens from the community.
Dr. Barnes explained to the group that the Reconfiguration Committee has been working on the project for the past year. They have proposed three options to be placed before the public that will alleviate the projected crowding; a projected increase of 800 students in the next five to seven years; respond to the impact of the New York State learning Standards and high school graduation requirements, plus the consideration of a Full Day Kindergarten.
After a series of meetings for the purpose of collecting input from the community the Herricks School Board will then make a decision as to which option, based on the response from the community, it chooses to put before the public in a public referendum to be held on April 11. One of the main reasons behind moving so quickly is that until July 30 the New York State Education Department will provide 44 percent reimbursement aid on any school construction for a referendum approved prior to that date. After that date the state aid will only be 34 percent, a loss of 10 percent if not approved by July 30th. Aid is payable on the principal and interest of the approved portion of the bond which is generally 75 to 80 percent.
The reason behind reconfiguration is due to the fact that the projected number of students for the next few years far exceeds the space available in each and every one of the schools with no exceptions.
Seven to eight general classrooms needed which does not include additional rooms required for specialized programs.
Seven to eight general classrooms needed. Does not include additional rooms for specialized programs.
Four to six general classrooms needed. Again, does not include additional rooms for specialized programs.
Eleven general classrooms needed. Does not include additional rooms for specialized programs.
Six full classrooms; two student service rooms; two science labs.
Option No. 1 deals with expanding all five buildings and leaving the Community Center as it is. In the community discussion portion of the Saturday meeting this option was also the most favored mainly because it is the less disruptive to the schools and does not interrupt the many programs in progress at the Herricks Community Center including the Alzheimer's Day Program, Harbor Day Care and the programs run every day for the senior citizens of the New Hyde Park/ Herricks community.
The projected cost of Option No. 1 will have the least impact on taxes of the other options and would require a similar staffing pattern which is used now. The tax impact would be $14.09 per month for the average homeowner in the district. The breakdown of the cost of each building is as follows: Center Street-$8, 154, 962; Denton Avenue-$7, 897, 036; Searingtown-$9, 379, 975; Middle School-$7, 216, 768; High School-$7, 216, 768. The total is: $35, 709, 811.
One senior citizen in the audience pointed out that the $14.09 would only be the cost of the bond payment and that any increase in the regular school budget which would include teacher salary increases, maintenance of buildings, etc. added to that amount. It was further pointed out that this amount would be increased every year.
School Board President Paul Ehrbar said, "That is true. We all pay taxes as well and we are trying to present to you the most economical way to approach this problem. We are not trying to mislead you. The reality is that we do have increased enrollment and we have to try to deal with in the best way we can."
Option No. 1 is without a doubt the choice of the entire committee that worked on the project including the following: PTA Council-Marcia Hoffenberg; Senior Citizens-Quintan DelRosso; Center Street-Bob/Maria Ammann; Denton Avenue-Debbie Madonna; Searingtown-Tammy Smiley; Middle School-Linda Ackerman; High School-Richard Rostholder; SEPTA-Jane Ferrante, Emilia Sutz; Gemini-Richard Quan; School Board Liaison-Chris Turner. Teachers: Center Street-Audrey Bellovin; Denton Avenue-Susan Arluck; Searingtown-Daniel Franciscovich; Middle School-Paul Wolski; High School-Bob Zenie; all building principals and from the Central Administration Office: Dr. Ronald Barnes, Dr. Sidney Freund and Intern-Robin Throne.
However, trustee Emilia Sutz said that she proposed another option, not put into the mix by her colleagues on the board, that would utilize portions of the Community Center for classrooms and still maintain some of its other programs. She said that it would work if the seniors compromised and used the facility until 12:30 p.m. and exited the building in time for the 5th and 6th graders who would have classes in the building, to have lunch in the cafeteria by one o'clock.
One young mother in the audience was adamantly against that proposal. She said that with people in and out of the building all day attending various programs that it would be impossible to maintain any kind of security for the children attending classes in the building.
The members of the board appeared surprised with the suggestion of Trustee Sutz. Trustee Turner said that she and Sutz were both part of the Reconfiguration Committee and any such suggestion should have been proposed to the committee prior to now.
David Stollwerk, a long time Herricks resident and teacher in the Herricks system, felt that the board should look at a fourth option and perhaps "sharpen the pencils" and come up with a less costly option that would not have such an impact on taxes.
Trustee Sutz further stated that two buildings in the district are not state aidable (no money given back to the district for renovation from the state). She explained that the Administration Building and the Community Center were not aidable and that when the district put a new roof on the Community Center or did asbestos abatement the district paid dollar-for-dollar for that renovation. However, she said, "If we converted the Community Center back into a school we would get money back on any renovations we did to the building. This is a fact that has not been factored into the mix that we are considering."
Dr. Barnes said, "It must be clear that the money we are spending is all aidable and if we do get aid on this building as a school it basically means there is no more Community Center. And, this building must also be added onto to maintain Option 2 or 3 which is very costly.
The main objection of developing the Community Center back into a school is that since the building is 50 years old it does not meet the standards that are set for classrooms in New York State schools which is at least 800 square feet. The classrooms at the Community Center are on average 670 square feet so they would have to be expanded. Further seven classrooms would have to be added, bathrooms would have to be built into primary classrooms, the heating, ventilation and electrical would have to all be renovated, plus other construction and after all of that was completed additional classrooms would still be required in the other elementary schools.
Another consideration that was voiced at the meeting was that the Community Center, if developed back into a school, would be situated on a very busy and unsafe Herricks Road which is not be a suitable location for elementary school children.
No estimate could be given as to how much would be returned from the state at this time because the state does not look at the plans for reconstruction until it is passed in referendum.
Option No. 2 proposes to develop four K-6 elementary schools including the Community Center; one 7-8 middle school and one 9-12 high school. This plan would also build additions on all the schools except the middle school and would move the Senior Citizen Program to the Middle School.
Center Street-$8, 442, 452; Denton-$7, 897, 036; Searingtown-$9, 379, 975; High School-$3, 061, 070; Middle School-$57, 500; Community Center-$16, 119. 98. Total is $44, 958, 014 with an estimated tax impact of $17. 74 per month for the average homeowner in the district.
The down side would be the redistricting of all the existing elementary schools; loss of many Community Center activities; Middle School would be a two-year school, which met opposition in the audience from parents and educators; costly to replicate services in another elementary school and it would have an impact on the athletic program and on STAC (Student TV Arts Company).
Option No. 3 proposes to develop three K-4 Elementary Schools; One 5-6 School at the Community Center; One 7-8 Middle School and One 9-12 High School. This plan would convert the Community Center into a Grade 5-6 school through renovation and new construction; building additions on all other schools except the Middle School and move the Senior Citizen Program to the Middle School.
The projected cost and tax impact for Option No. 3 is as follows: Center Street-$6, 785, 302; Denton-$6, 628, 645; Searingtown-$7, 947, 305; High School-$3, 061, 070; Middle School-$57,500; Community Center-$15, 519, 981. Total is $39, 990, 803 with an estimated tax impact would be $15.78 per month for the average homeowner in the district.
One senior wanted to know if a merger between school districts has ever been considered. President Ehrbar said that even if you combined districts you would still need all the space and possibly the only saving would be in a superintendent's salary.
A resident wanted to know if consideration has been given to taking down the Administration Building and building a new facility to be used as a Kindergarten and first grade center. Dr. Barnes pointed out that building a new building is very costly because it would not include just classrooms, but a cafeteria, a gym, principal offices, nurses offices, etc. that would bring the cost of a new building up to a considerable amount.
Many, many seniors spoke in favor of the Community Center remaining as it is with no disruption and they, too, as a whole were in favor of Option No. 1.
One resident said, "Any option that eliminates the Community Center is not an option." Another said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
At the end of the meeting President Ehrbar asked those in the audience to fill out a questionnaire attached to information sheet that registered their vote on one of the three options and why. He also asked if those in the audience would like to have another Saturday meeting and the answer was yes.
After a full afternoon of discussion the board and the seniors were still chatting and expressing their opinions as they exited the building.
By the time we print this story, however, the board will have made a decision at a meeting scheduled to be held on Jan. 27, weather permitting. That decision will be reported in the Feb. 4 issue of the Illustrated News.