The school board began its due diligence on the districtwide long-range facilities study performed which was presented on May 26 by district architect Ralph Ottaiano. The report, with its nine options, contained scenarios with varying enrollments at the elementary schools, middle and high schools, and varying price tags ranging from $18 million to $63 million.
At the board's special facilities work session on June 2, discussion on each of the following questions took place:
* What size enrollment system should the board plan for?
The consensus of the board was to accept the enrollment projections based on the live birth data, which is currently available through the year 2001/02, and migration patterns. For years further out, when live birth data is obviously not available, the board agreed to calculate projections based on an increase of 3 percent in kindergarten enrollment. It was noted that this increase has been the trend over the past five years in the district. Board member Roy Nelson said, "I'd prefer to plan on the high-side. It's easier to scale back than scale up." Board member Sandy Ehrlich echoed these sentiments saying she'd rather "err on the side of too large."
The board members agreed to build with the idea of including space for further expansion should the projection figures turn out to be too low. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Inserra noted, "The farther out we go, the less accurate the data becomes."
Although it's still under discussion, the year and enrollment that the board decides to build to will most likely be 2008/09 whose enrollment projections total 5,522 (2,567 for K-5, 1,206 for middle school which includes grades 6,7,8, and 1,749 for high school). Being taken into consideration is the fact that the building won't be completed for at least three years from now.
A year/enrollment figure to plan to, as opposed to being built to, also has to be determined. It's expected that once a final determination of the year to build to is made, a decision on which year to plan to will follow.
Dr. Inserra informed the audience that from now on the board and administration will be reviewing the enrollment figures and projections annually.
*What size enrollment does the board want in each of the school buildings in the district?
Does the district want a fifth elementary school? Are five smaller schools superior to four larger ones? If a fifth elementary school is the answer, should it be Salem or Weber?
Much debate took place on this question. Dr. Inserra asked board members to determine an "ideal school size." According to the research, he noted that school size does not affect academic performance. Elementary schools with 700 pupils do as well as schools with 300 pupils, he reported.
Sandy Ehrlich disagrees, however, saying that in her opinion a qualitative difference between large and small buildings exists. She argues that the education may be the same, but the educational experience, especially in terms of nurturance, is diminished in a larger school setting. She mentioned that several parents in the district had shared similar sentiments with her.
Nancy Cowles noted that in the past, Guggenheim had an enrollment of 700, Main Street School was over 800 and Daly held 600 students, and the schools still delivered a quality education.
Roy Nelson feels that given a choice of where to allocate funds, he'd rather allocate them to education rather than to the educational environment. Explaining he said, a school that's too small is not economical to run.
In terms of staffing, Dr. Nelson says that he would rather have the resources in the school, rather than having them spread among the other schools. Also with small schools comes the need to hire part timers, which somewhat limits a district's choice of teachers.
Based on the educational results, Joe Mirzoeff is of the opinion that the size of the enrollment is not a significant factor in quality education.
Sousa Principal Dr. Barry said that you can't distinguish between education and educational experience. "A crowded, noisy school without enough space affects students' attention spans," he pointed out. He added that there is a maximum number of students a building can accommodate and noted that staffing has to be looked at also. "There's just so much a person can do," he said. He also pointed out that today many more demands and parental expectations "beyond the core curriculum" are placed upon the teaching staff.
Daly Principal Mr. Morris said that with an enlarged enrollment, "it's harder to handle individual programs for kids." On the other hand, he said, that if a school is too small, fewer choices are available. Manorhaven Principal Linda Wells told the board that her Compact Committee determined that the school's maximum enrollment should be 600, and noted that staffing is important.
With 27 sections currently at the Guggenheim School, Principal Linda Creach says "it shouldn't be much larger than it is."
Dr. Inserra pointed out two things: the size of the school is, in part, an important emotional issue for some people; Port parents believe in small class size.
Since the matter wasn't resolved, more debate on this issue will take place at the next meeting.
* What would be the best use of the WeberFlower Hill facility, which is currently a middle school? Should the district have one or two middle schools? Should the district consider Weber as an elementary school? Should the district build a new middle school?
Dr. Inserra said that, given the programs the board wants to run, the size of the middle school is an extremely complicated issue and generates a host of issues. With a middle school enrollment of 1,200 to 1,300 students anticipated in 2005-2010, coupled with a high school enrollment of 1,607 to 1,773 expected in the same period, 500 students will be added to Campus Drive. Dr. Inserra asked, "How will it work on our existing campus?"
It was also noted that Weber was designed to be an elementary school, not a middle school. The school also has classroom size issues; some are too small. Mr. Ottaiano has already stated that Weber is currently "a tight sight."
"Is there a viable plan to use Weber as is?" asked Dr. Inserra. Board members noted that additions are needed, and there's just so much land available.
At this point, the board decided to continue the debate on this subject at its next meeting and to investigate the possibility of hiring a consultant.
Jim Cowles suggested keeping the four elementary schools and keeping Salem as a safety net. He also thinks that the entire site, including the road from the Post Office, at Campus Drive should be replanned.
One audience member suggested that the district change to a configuration of a Jr. High, grades 7,8,9 and Sr. High, grades 10,11,12.
Another audience member noted the importance of including enough room for adequate athletic fields. Currently, she said, the many kids who participate in sports have to be bused to practice and games, adding to the traffic congestion in town.
Pam Goldman, co-president-elect, Daly HSA, presented several issues the Daly parents have with respect to the long-range facilities report. Among them were:
* The recommendation to construct a new front entrance gave no consideration to the location of the current office. If the purpose of a new entrance is to increase security and control in this building, the office must also be located to this front area.
* With the need to add small group instruction space, the children lost any all-purpose room, or large gathering place to view the inflatable planetarium, to have lunch time or after school clubs, or to bring two or three classes together for a shared program.
* Most importantly, the plan does not address the significantly small classroom sizes found at Daly (6 rooms are under 640 square feet). The square footage at Daly must be taken into account when calculating student capacity.
* A reminder that Daly School is still owed two classrooms from the last construction project.