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School Board Discusses Possible School Closings

Decision Expected Feb. 25, Committee to Be Formed

The Mineola Board of Education discussed the possibility of closing two of its four elementary schools at last week’s board of education meeting. A decision on school closings is expected at the February 25 meeting of the board of education. In addition, the board decided to form a committee to explore possible grade configurations for the district.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Nagler again explained that he does not foresee the district being able to keep all of its schools open and all of its programs as part of future budgets that would be approved by voters. In essence, the board of education and the administration must decide whether it wants to keep all of its schools or all of its programs.

The decision facing the board comes during a financial recession when district residents may not be able to continue to afford a district with seven schools. Expenses are increasing while state aid is expected to decrease. In addition, federal stimulus money is expected to run out after the 2010-2011 budget.

As district resident John Napolitano (no relation to school board member Christine Napolitano) put it, “The cavalry is not coming.”

The Mineola School District finds itself in a position to have to reduce staff in order to save money since salaries and benefits account for most of the budget. Salaries and benefit increases may now be outpacing the increases the community is able to pay. A recently hired teacher just out of college with a bachelor’s degree commanded a salary of $56,158. That salary will go up at least 3.5 percent in 2010-2011 and possibly more if that teacher continues his or her education.

If the school district were to close two schools, the district could lay off 10 teachers per closed building for a total of 20 teachers.

In discussing the possibility of closing two schools, deputy superintendent Sherri Goffman issued a report on the advantages and disadvantages of clustering schools, which are schools that serve particular grades as opposed to neighborhood schools, which serve a particular geographic area.

Goffman reported that there are advantages and disadvantages to school clustering and while no grade configuration is perfect, whatever grade configuration the school district chooses can succeed with the presence of strong campus leadership and quality teaching and a quality educational program.

School board member John McGrath, who has been adamant in the past about not closing schools, still expressed some reservations, saying that it is difficult to predict what the educational impact would be on a different grade configuration for the school district. “We can quantify [financial] savings. We can’t quantify the educational benefit or detriment,” he said.

Still, Dr. Nagler believes the board of education has to make a decision soon as to whether the administration will build its 2010-2011 budget with closing schools in mind or whether it will keep its current configuration. Dr. Nagler warned, however, that without closing schools, putting budgets forth that the community will support will be difficult without cutting into the educational program and extra-curricular activities. “We have a real issue about losing programs if we do nothing. We run a very expensive school system. Something has to give,” he said.

When it came time for public comment, some parents defended the current neighborhood school model and expressed a willingness to pay tax increases in order to maintain it. School district resident Rick Ueland, however, urged the board to keep an open mind about closing schools in order to keep the educational program and contain costs. “I think you need to take some action and consider closing schools. Something has to be done,” he said.

The board is considering making a decision at its February 25 meeting. The board is also forming a committee to seek the best grade configuration possible for the district. The committee will consist of representatives of District Council PTAs and members of the community. If you are a Mineola School District resident with no children currently in the district and want to serve on the committee, contact Dr. Nagler.