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Letter: A Concern of the BOE Vote to Place Bond Vote Before Voters on Oct. 26

I write in reference to the article in the Mineola American this week concerning the Board of Education’s decision to radically reconfigure the Mineola School System and close three of its elementary schools and put before the voters a Bond of $ 6.7 million in order to execute that decision. Also included in this radical school reconfiguration plan (RSRP) will be moving the fifth grade to the current Middle School and the eighth grade to the High School in defiance of the community’s expressly stated wishes.

No mention was made in the article that the Board’s vote was not unanimous with three members of the board voting to present this option and bond to the public for a vote on Oct. 26 and two members, one of whom was the writer of this letter, voting against. I was also surprised that no mention was made of the statements the various board members made justifying their votes. Also omitted was any reference to the fact that the entire Board voted unanimously to reject the so-called Bond Option two, which was presented that night as well.

In addition the article also omitted any reference to the fact that the option approved by the Board majority on Aug. 12 completely ignored the well expressed sentiments of the majority of the community at large which overwhelmingly opposed moving the fifth grade to the Middle School as well as moving the eighth grade to the High School.

The community also overwhelmingly opposed use of the Willis Avenue School and the Board’s plan to place a small playground on the roof of that school for the students to be educated there. The Board majority in approving this radical plan to reconfigure the school district also ignored alternatives to the use of the Willis Avenue School, suggested by members of the community.

Also omitted from the article was any reference that throughout the long and arduous debate over whether and how to reconfigure the Mineola School District, the primary focus has been on the financial benefits, which would accrue if we were to close schools. In its drive to do whatever it took to close schools the Board majority presented these alleged financial benefits in aggregate form to accentuate the “savings” aspect of the plan without any mention that the average residential taxpayer would see little or no tax relief from any of these plans. Indeed, the Board’s Finance Committee issued its report with so many caveats as to render its estimations of the actual savings meaningless.

That committee noted that the savings numbers were based on economic conditions that currently exist and that future events may have an impact on any actual savings.

The article also omitted any reference to the fact that the Board majority has ignored the educational impact by its decision of Aug. 12 focusing almost exclusively on the financial impact. While individual members of the Board majority made reference to the potential educational benefits to accrue to our students under their plan there is absolutely no objective basis for that optimism. Indeed in a report provided to the Board by the former Deputy Superintendent several months ago, it clearly stated that the benefits of clustering schools could not be objectively determined by any study.

Yet one Board member, quoting that administrator, described the Board’s plan to radically reconfigure the school district as “educationally sound.” That Board member did not address the fact that the radical school reconfiguration plan he was supporting completely ignored the wishes of the community as expressed by the Community Committee on Consolidation (Triple C) and others with respect to the reconfiguration of our school system.  

At the meeting on Aug. 12, another member of the Board majority did address this issue in part when justifying ignoring the community’s opposition to having a rooftop playground when we have school facilities that already have actual playgrounds. That board member stated that students don’t use the playgrounds very much while in school and that this was an acceptable compromise in light of the other benefits that would come from using the Willis Avenue School. However, as with the other Board member’s comments, no objective evidence of those alleged benefits were referenced in her comments in support of this radical school reconfiguration plan.

A community member pointed out at that meeting that were this radical school reconfiguration plan to be implemented the school system would lose 48 classrooms, offset by the eight classrooms to be built at a staggering cost of $6.7 million. Another community member was told that if the cost of the building construction exceeded $6.7 million that the school district could only borrow up to the $6.7 million of the voter approved bond.

Left unsaid was that any excess monies needed would need to come from the school district budget at the expense of programs. Also left unsaid was that the bond, to be financed over the next ten years, would add to, not reduce, the community’s tax burden with any alleged financial benefits accruing after the bond was paid off ten years from now when many of us will no longer be residents of this community.   

Also left unsaid by the Board majority was the radical educational and social impact its decision would have on the community. Increased class sizes, overcrowded schools, loss of playgrounds, loss of community identity, plummeting real estate values, reduced educational opportunities in the form of student leadership positions, loss of parental involvement through the obliteration of three elementary Parent Teacher Association (PTA) organizations and the list goes on.

Nowhere in this radical school reconfiguration plan did anyone of the members of the Board of Education voting for this plan certify that the radical reduction in schools and classrooms would be accompanied by a radical increase in student achievement. They didn’t because they can’t.

It should also be noted that this plan was approved by board members with experience of two years or less and who, based on that level of experience, have had insufficient experience to understand the educational repercussions of their radical school district reconfiguration decision.

It was these factors, omitted from the article in this week’s Mineola American that I felt needed to be expressed in response.

John McGrath

Mineola School Board Trustee

Roslyn Heights Resident