Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 05 February 2010 00:00
The Mineola Board of Education is expected to discuss a plan that involves closing two schools at the board meeting tomorrow. The discussion thus far has fueled a passionate debate on the financial future of the Mineola School District.
Mineola Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Nagler has presented the facts regarding the district’s current financial position and where it is headed and now the board is listening to public comments in order to make its decision on whether to close two elementary schools or proceed with formulating a budget with the mindset of keeping the school system the way it is.
Numerous comments have been placed on Dr. Nagler’s blog on the school district’s website, www.mineola.k12. ny.us, about the possibility of school closings. As predicted, there are comments in favor of closing schools and those who feel the students are best served under the current model.
However, what may force the board’s hand is the financial outlook of the Mineola School District and Long Island school districts in general. While contractual expenses are increasing due to salary and benefit increase, revenues are on the decline as evidenced by the governor’s executive budget, which calls for a decrease in state aid to schools.
Dr. Nagler has targeted 2.5 percent as a tax levy increase he can build the budget toward since a 2.5 percent is an increase the community may be willing to approve in May’s budget vote. The district may be able to put forth a budget for the 2010-2011 school year with a 2.5 percent tax levy increase by laying off or excessing personnel, including seven teachers. However, the following year would be more difficult and Dr. Nagler is trying to tell the community that there may not be a way to keep all seven school buildings open and not make cuts to the educational program the district delivers.
“It will delay the inevitable in terms of the pain felt in the program [in 2011-2012]. If the expectation is to match 2.5 percent again [in 2011-2012], you’re hitting a ton of program,” said Dr. Nagler. “You can’t wake up one morning and say ‘what happened?’ I’m trying not to be an alarmist, but be factual. We know what’s coming. I’m getting some very good feedback. I’m just giving you the facts. I’m trying to be as brutally honest as possible. I don’t see any silver lining that’s going to change the picture.”
The board meeting of Feb. 4 will involve the continuation of the discussion of closing schools. Dr. Nagler would need an answer from the board as budget time gets closer because he would have to make provisions to build a reserve to pay for the additions needed on the two elementary schools that would remain open. The reserve would have to be approved by voters at the time of the budget vote in May.
“You can make a decision to close schools and continue the discussion about how you’re going to do that, ”Dr. Nagler said.
According to the superintendent, a decision can be made to close schools even without a commitment to clustering grades. “If you say we need to close schools, but you don’t like clustering; you want to do two neighborhood schools, at least we’re moving the conversation,” Dr. Nagler said.
He is looking at some advantages to clustering grades as well as the neighborhood school model for Mineola.
• Would put a stop to what may be inequalities in the different schools. There is a notion among some parents that some of the elementary schools in the district receive more than others. Clustering schools means all students in the district would attend the same schools.
• With taxpayers clamoring for school districts to cut costs, Mineola can be an example for all districts going forward of a district willing to take drastic measures for its taxpayers.
• The school buildings that are closed can eventually bring additional revenue to the district if they are rented out. The school district would most likely retain ownership and can take the buildings back if the district should need them in the future.
• Students would all be attending the same schools so they would know each other all through district instead of just at their time beginning at the middle school.
• Would be cheaper since a cluster school model would require less staff.
• Keeping neighborhood schools would save on busing since students would be bused to the school in their neighborhoods.
• Neighborhood schools have their own sense of community and foster school spirit.
• Keeping the neighborhood schools would mean less transitions for students. They would change schools only three times as opposed to four times with clustering school model.
• Ensures that the district has enough space. Even the grade configuration study showed that the schools (all except for perhaps Jackson Avenue) have space.
The board of education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Willis Avenue School. Check the district website at www.mineola.k12.ny.us before the meeting for possible change of location to the high school auditorium.