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School Board Meets With CCC in Talks Of Possible Third Option

The Mineola School Board of Education met with the CCC (Community Committee on Consolidation) on April 22 to discuss the ongoing concern of the closing of schools. The reason for the meeting was to open more dialogue between the board and the CCC, to see what gaps can be bridged in terms of the school district’s reconfiguration.

Superintendent Michael Nagler iterated recently that there has been no decision on what schools will close or what configuration will be adopted. The board also stated that it doubts a decision will be made by the budget vote on May 18.

The last time the two groups met, the committee made its recommendation to close the Willis Avenue School in 2011. The school currently serves all of the district’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes on the first floor with central administration offices on the second floor. The Willis Avenue School opened in 2003 after district residents passed a bond referendum in 2000 to build the school.

Last Thursday night, the Board and the CCC went back and forth with ideas that could significantly alter the current options the committee has presented and include a possible third option. Nagler presented the facilities data to the committee and came to a conclusion that the Meadow Drive School and the Willis Avenue School, with modifications, are better spaces than the Cross Street School and Hampton Street School. He previously showcased the data to the public at the board’s meeting on April 20.

The modifications at Willis Avenue would see half of the second floor become part of the building that holds classes. The central office would be removed and placed elsewhere, according to Nagler. He stressed that this is an idea that needs mending. The notion is that renovation more so than additional building, would be most cost effective.

“I’ll happily go wherever you put me to make those classrooms,” Nagler said of central office moving. “And with that additional space, we’d fit fine. Why not do that space at Willis instead of Hampton? Because it’s a lot easier to knock down interior walls than build an additional structure. Knocking down office walls and putting in classrooms, we can do in-house. It’ll be a minimal cost for construction. If we tried to put an additional wing on Hampton, it’s a whole different story.”

The number of ESL and special education students seems to be what is driving the class sizes up in the reconfiguration models, according to the board. The board used a combination of the schools’ management system in conjunction with the bus database to extrapolate how many students walk to school and how many bus, then broke it down by how many of those students are ESL/Special Education, and came to a conclusion.

“The ESL numbers are driving additional classrooms,” Nagler said. “The special education numbers are driving additional spaces. So whereas I thought we could fit it in and it would’ve been tight and doable, when you pull the numbers and start placing every single classroom you need for every single kid, it’s not big enough. You can do it. But it certainly is not something you can grow into, or I even think you want. We don’t want to cramp kids into spaces that really are not appropriate.”

Trustee Christine Napolitano said that the exit survey on the budget vote will be important because those are the people who will most likely come out if there is a bond vote. “We can talk about getting opinions from people throughout the district, but sadly there are parents that don’t vote,” she said. “We have a lot of parents with opinions, but they don’t come out and vote. I’m really curious to see the people who come out for the budget vote because more likely than not, they’ll be the people that come out for a bond vote.”

One committee member said that it would’ve been a common courtesy to have gotten a heads-up on the idea of a possible third option. Nagler personally took the responsibility for that.

“The flipside to it is, ‘you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,’” he said. “The board is giving me a ton of work to do. They want answers and I can’t produce the answers fast enough. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hours of work to generate these types of numbers especially when it’s so abstract.”

The committee member inquired further to ask what spurred the investigation to look into the other schools in terms of options and, “when we had the options on the board and we decided on a pre-K-to-2, we entrusted you with the number of schools, the population. What was the impetus to start looking into the other [schools]?”

As far as classroom size, the committee member said, they looked at each room and the grade configuration, what was needed for each one and was told that it fit. Board president William Hornberger stated that the idea was about the ESL and special education perspective and how they would look in the new migrated model of a north/south based on Jericho Turnpike being the dividing line.

“That was the request of the board to say ‘What would it look like?” “We know what it looks like in terms of today. It’s heavy in Jackson, light or moderate at Cross and Hampton and is essentially non-existent up north [at Meadow],” Hornberger said.

Another committee member stated that they knew questions would be asked of its recommendation. But the time frame is a serious issue. “Here we are less than a month away from a budget vote,” she said. “And I agree with you to want to give people options in the exit poll. That says ‘Keep it simple stupid.’ I don’t know if you want to give them too many options. But what are we looking at as a time frame for options to present to people and knowing full well they may vote yes or no on a budget based on what we’re presenting them.”

The board said the exit survey during the budget vote will have two options. Whether or not it’ll include a third option remains to be seen. “Feedback and dialogue is key,” Hornberger said. “We have to have that as we create the new district. We have partnership and a sense of ownership. As much as the final decision will be at the board level, again, what [the committee] knows, feels, and brings to the table is just as important as what eventually gets voted on.”