Friday, 13 May 2011 00:00
Since the fall of 2005, I have been a member of the Mineola UFSD finance committee. For anyone who is unsure why the Mineola School District is going through the current reconfiguration, I hope this will help make clear why it needs to be done.
Teachers, aides, administrators, bus drivers, custodians, etc. deliver education. Employment contracts for these employees, with their associated benefits, make up approximately 80 percent of the school budget. Adding in service/consulting contracts for outsourced work brings that total to over 85 percent.
Unions are not responsible for negotiating the best contract for the district; that responsibility belongs to the board of education. Oversight of negotiating and approving contacts is a very important responsibility of the board of education.
For years the board negotiated and approved contracts with the various unions, then turned around and blamed the rising costs on those same contracts. When asked about the contracts the response was always, “the administration recommended that we approve it.” This is abdicating responsibility. The board should always look at the total cost of the contract and what effect it will have on future budgets before approving it, not just rubber stamp a recommendation.
In 2006, the finance committee made presentations to the board on what drives our cost per student and what needed to be done to contain that cost. The two main issues presented were the inefficiency in the configuration of the four elementary schools and employment contracts. To keep budget and tax increases to a minimum, Mineola needs to be as efficient as possible, and also be firm when negotiating contracts.
Currently, we have classes of 13 to 15 children in some of our elementary schools, while in there are 22 or more in the same grade in other schools. Three of our elementary schools are very small and underutilized; they are micro-schools. The reconfiguration will make better use of the space we have, reduce staff and make teacher collaboration easier and more effective.
Board members are elected to represent the interests of the whole district. They have a responsibility to educate themselves about the district finances, as well as issues of curriculum, facilities, programs, etc. Saying that the board “should let the community decide” what to do about reconfiguration is also abdicating responsibility. While getting community involvement and input is crucial, there is no one plan that will make everyone happy.
It is unfortunate that one of the new school board candidates has chosen to repeat misinformation and play on the fears of a few in an attempt to garner votes. In Carle Place and New Hyde Park, the seventh through twelfth grades are together in one building. In East Williston, the Wheatley School houses eighth through twelfth grades, just as we will next year. Across Nassau County there are many districts with similar configurations. These schools thrive.
The claim about the Cross Street lease is a similar attempt to get votes from a group that is only worried about a single issue. The administration did everything necessary to search out prospective occupants. Newsday ran an article praising our closing buildings earlier this year. Anyone interested in leasing the building and not knowing of its availability would have to be living under a rock.
Much of the community recognizes that the current system is neither efficient nor equitable. They support the plan because they realize it is what’s best for the district as a whole, even if it isn’t exactly the configuration they would like. They understand that the children will be fine.
There are times when what needs to be done is not popular or easy, and this is one of those times. Fortunately, we have three board members who are willing to do what is needed. Two of them are up for re-election, I hope everyone will get out and vote for Will Hornberger and Terry Hale so that they can finish this difficult process.