Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 18 February 2011 00:00
As residents probably know, the Feb. 8 bond vote failed by 366 votes which would have kept the fifth and eighth grade in their respective schools. Now those grades will move to the middle and high school. What residents didn’t know is there was a petition before the board of education at its workshop meeting before the vote to have no change come to the district at all.
The Mineola Board of Education rejected a petition by 160 residents that a proposition be included with the Feb. 8 bond vote to keep all seven schools open along with the current grade configuration for the next school year and foreseeable future.
Board vice-President Christine Napolitano believed putting the petition in front of voters would have scuttled all of the board’s work in reconfiguring the district in order to avoid tax increases.
The petition called for both Cross Street and Willis Avenue Schools to remain open. Those schools will close in September 2011 and 2012 respectively.
“I wonder if those same individuals who signed it would also have said ‘I agree to pay the 7 percent tax hike this year and whatever it’s going to take the following years’,” Napolitano stated. She said a majority of the petitioners came from the same area of the district.
“We’ve been talking about this issue for years,” she said at the Feb. 3 meeting at the Willis Avenue School. “Now we’re going to turn around and say ‘never mind, let’s go back to the drawing board and your vote didn’t matter and let’s keep all seven buildings open and we’ll see what happens with the budget’?”
She stated that she hears what these “voices” are saying, but that she’s not totally sure these people were totally informed to say, “that you want something is wonderful, but I’d like to hear that they said they’d pay whatever it took to keep all seven schools open. I could be wrong. I admit that. But I don’t think they’d go for that if they heard it.”
The board tabled the measure at its Jan. 20 meeting, and several board members felt that it was too close to add another measure to the Feb. 8 vote.
Board President Terence Hale stated that the board’s legal counsel described placing the measure on the Feb. 8 ballot as “untimely.”
“Even if counsel’s correct, you can put it on the ballot subsequent to the bond vote Tuesday,” Trustee John McGrath said, believing the reconfiguration is governed under education law and connected to local finance law. “It appeared as though the petition was served on the district within a time frame governed by both of those sections, the way I read it,” McGrath said, but admitted, “I could be wrong.”
McGrath was for putting the proposition on the bond vote stating, “160 people signed a petition asking for a choice. I say we give it to them.”
Superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler pointed out that the petition, if voted upon by the public, can only be used in an advisory capacity.
The cost from a tax levy perspective would be a $5.6 million increase over the current $80 million budget according to Assistant Superintendent of Finance Jack Waters. The increase would equal about a 7 percent levy increase.
Trustee William Hornberger mentioned the 2 percent tax cap that was recently passed by the State Senate that was put forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Nagler stated it would be hard to make that cap with keeping all the buildings open. The tax cap is before the Assembly as of press time.
“We’re closing a building and reorganizing this whole district and we would have trouble making a 2 percent cap,” Nagler said. “Without cutting programs I don’t think we could deliver a 2 percent levy.”
In order to override the 2 percent cap, a 60 percent majority of voters must approve the measure, and if not, the district must either be at or below 2 percent “for the simple majority of 50 percent to pass it,” or go to a zero percent increase Nagler said. “In essence, what used to be a contingency budget, it’s gone.”
The petition was voted down three-to-two, with no votes coming from Hornberger, Napolitano and Hale. McGrath and trustee Irene Parrino voted yes.