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Decision on Closing Schools Expected Tomorrow

Mineola Board of Education Meeting to Be Held in H.S.

The decision of whether two of the seven school buildings in the Mineola School District should be closed is one that has elicited passion from residents on both sides of the issue. The board of education has been examining whether to close schools as a cost-saving measure for a few years and now, the board has arrived at a point when a decision will be made.

At tomorrow night’s meeting of the Mineola Board of Education, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Mineola High School auditorium, the board is expected to decide whether the school district will remain with its current grade configuration with all seven of its schools open or whether it will begin preparations for the closing of two elementary schools, one of which would be closed for the 2010-2011 school year and one of which would be closed for the 2011-2012 school year.

“We will have a resolution on the table as it relates to the direction we will provide [Superintendent of Schools] Dr. [Michael] Nagler,” said board of education president Will Hornberger.

The resolution, which will be a part of the agenda for the meeting posted on the district’s website at www.mineola.k12.ny.us, calls for the board to give the superintendent the direction to begin the process of closing two of the elementary schools buildings in the district.

The idea of closing schools is seen as a cost-savings measure for taxpayers of the Mineola School District. Putting forth school budgets that the community can afford will be a tough task for just about all school districts on Long Island.

Closing two schools would allow the district to reduce its staff by 10 teachers per school closing for a total of 20 teachers over two years, as well as administration and support staff.

Prior to becoming a school board trustee, Hornberger was a member of a community-based, school finance committee, which was commissioned with the task of examining why Mineola’s cost per pupil was among the highest in the nation.

Among the finance committee’s findings was that the number of school buildings the district has and the staffing of those buildings was a factor in the district’s high cost per pupil. The district currently has seven school buildings for an enrollment of approximately 2,700 students.

Another factor was the contracts the district has with its unions. Mineola has developed a reputation among some residents for handing out generous contracts with its unions, including the Mineola Teachers Association.

A study by the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association on teacher salaries in 2004-2005 found that the starting salary for a teacher with a master’s degree (Step 1) for the Mineola School District was $55,065, which ranked as the third highest in Nassau County behind Oceanside and Hewlett-Woodmere. That same starting salary for the 2010-2011 school year, the last year of the current teacher’s association contract, is $67,604.

Administrators’ salaries have also increased over the last six years. In 2004-2005, the starting salary for an elementary school principal in the Mineola School District (Step 1) was $120,825. That same salary in 2010-2011, the last year of the current administrator’s contract, is $152,883.

The escalating salaries of teachers and administrators may have grown at a rate higher than the community’s ability to pay from year to year.

Dr. Nagler has asked the board of education for direction in laying groundwork for closing schools or whether the district should remain in its current configuration and keep all the schools open as some parents have suggested. However, Dr. Nagler has warned that the cuts that will have to be made to the budget if all schools were left open would impact the educational program the district delivers.  

School board member John McGrath has been a champion of keeping all the schools open going back to when the topic was first discussed. McGrath has maintained that the education impact of closing two school buildings in unknown. He also pointed out that the board is being asked to vote on closing school buildings without knowing what the eventual configuration of the grades will be.

The board announced at its last meeting that a committee would be formed to study possible grade configurations with two less elementary school buildings. The committee is to be comprised of parents appointed by District Council of PTAs as well as community members who do not have students in the district.

McGrath is likely to propose an amendment to the resolution being proposed at Thursday’s board of education meeting. McGrath’s amendment would call for the board to put forth a budget in May with the intention of keeping all of the seven school buildings open in the future. If that budget should fail, the superintendent would be then authorized to go ahead with a plan to close schools. McGrath believes that the community, through the budget vote, would be able to decide if schools should be closed.

“I think that the community should have some direct say,” McGrath said. “Also, we don’t have a clear picture of what the new configuration is going to look like.”

If the school budget were to fail in May, the board would have the opportunity to put another budget up for a vote. If that budget were to fail, the board would be forced to adopt a contingency budget. This year, it is mandated that a contingency budget cannot have any spending increase over the 2009-2010 budget. If that were to happen, the board would have to make a projected $3.5 million in cuts to its proposed budget.

The board will be meeting Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Mineola High School auditorium. The high school is located at 10 Armstrong Road in Garden City Park.