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Letter: An Open Letter to the Board of Education And Dr. Nagler

We want to thank you for all of the hard work in examining configuration options for our school district.  We also want to particularly thank the board for allowing additional time after the configuration options were presented at the July board meeting so that the options could be more fully considered by the community.

While we only speak for ourselves and represent no group, we personally have taken this time to consider the options presented and discuss them with fellow community members.  As a result of this, before the board votes on a configuration recommendation at its August 12 meeting, we want to respectfully ask the board to consider the course of action we outline below. 

From the feedback at the last board meeting and from our conversations with community members, it is clear to us that using the Willis Avenue school as either a pre-K to grade 1 school in a total cluster scenario or as a pre-K to grade 2 school in a North/South configuration is simply unacceptable to the community as a whole.  The sentiment seems universal, whether it was parents or members of the community with no school age children, all the feedback on this was consistent.  We personally can understand why people would feel this way.

Who would decide to settle in the Mineola School District area to send children to an urban type school in a commercial district with a rooftop playground and little if any outdoor green recreation area when all of the surrounding districts in Nassau County (at least that we are aware of) present a true community school scenario for grammar school children?  In our view, such a decision to use Willis Avenue would not only be a disservice to the children who would be asked to attend that urban-like facility, it would also impact the property values of the whole community. If the school district is less attractive than neighboring communities, who will move in here at current prices?  Would it really be better to save a few more dollars in school costs if property values decline to more than offset such savings?

So, if there is agreement in the community that Willis Avenue should not be used in any new configuration (and we believe there is), we think there are several consequences that flow from this.  First, we think that the total cluster option (with Willis Ave. as a pre-K to grade 1 school for the whole district) should now be off the table and not considered.

As a result of this, a North/South configuration with local community schools would then have to be used.  Without Willis Avenue, this would then require that Hampton Street be upgraded.

Thus, the configuration would look like the following: Meadow pre-K to grade 2, Hampton pre-K to Grade 2, Jackson grades 3 and 4, the Middle School grades 5, 6 and 7 and the High School grades 8 – 12.  This approach has a number of advantages in our view:  (1) it is the approach that best honors the community’s strong consensus views that Willis should not remain open; and (2) it is consistent with the configuration that was originally recommended by the CCC (Community Committee on Consolidation), the Committee that consisted of a broad spectrum of community members.

However, it also has another advantage — it requires the lowest bond amount to be approved by the community, $1.7 million, recognizing the very real concern in the community about the amount of any bond to be proposed in connection with a reconfiguration.  Based on this, we would ask the Board to consider seeking approval of a $1.7 million bond first for the upgrade needed for Hampton Street School before any other bond proposal. 

We recognize that there has also been a strong community sentiment about keeping the fifth-graders out of the Middle School and eighth-graders out of the High School.  However, the bond amount to achieve this by building onto Jackson Avenue school is $4.4 million.  While we personally would support this in addition to the $1.7 million bond for Hampton, we believe that there are some mixed views about this in the community, particularly among those in the community without children.

Thus, we think it would be more respectful to the community as a whole to propose the $1.7 million bond for Hampton upgrades first, with the $4.4 million for improvements for Jackson Avenue as either a contingency bond (if the Hampton bond were approved) or a later bond if not legally permissible as a contingency bond.  This simply makes the most sense for all constituents in the community and honors the strongest view being expressed, that Willis Avenue is just not an appropriate community school for our district.

We, as parents in the community, have seen our fellow parents sacrifice a great deal in recognizing the fiscal reality of the district in agreeing to close schools that directly impact our children’s lives and school experiences. However, we also realize we need to be balanced in terms of any bond we ask the community as a whole to support in connection with the configuration.

We think the fairest way for all to proceed is to seek approval of the $1.7 million bond to upgrade Hampton first, a relatively modest amount that we believe the whole community will support.  We then believe that the $4.4 million bond to refurbish Jackson Avenue (and keep the eighth graders out of the High School and fifth-graders out of the Middle School) should be proposed second where the community’s voice can be heard on this bigger expenditure.  Again, while we would support it, we greatly respect that there are other views on this proposal.

One other point, if no bond is approved for Hampton and there is a North/South configuration, then the children in the southern portion of the district would be forced to attend Willis Avenue pre-K to grade 2 while the children in the North would be able to attend Meadow Drive pre-K to 2.

In our view, this would be incredibly inequitable and would create a schism in the School District that would last well beyond the current configuration issue.  Meadow Drive parents objected strenuously to having to send their children to Willis Avenue in a true cluster scenario.

We know them and they are fair people – they would have the same objection to the children in the Southern part of the district attending Willis Avenue.  We urge the board to prevent this and support a bond for Hampton Street in the amount of $1.7 million so that our youngest children have the type of community school experience that we moved to Mineola to provide for our families. 

We thank the board for considering this proposed course of action and ask community members who share this view to express this to the Board.

Anne Marie and Larry Egan