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Opinion

There is a black mark in my educational career.

In the months preceding my wedding I dropped out of dance school. As a measure of revenge, my wife of over 14 years occasionally forces me to attend meetings of the Port Washington School Board. December 1 represented one such occasion.

For obvious reasons, I don't know how the Samba is done. But if there is a dance where one stands still for 20 minutes, turns around in circles, goes backwards and sideways in no particular sequence, then that dance is the perfect metaphor for the school board meeting which I just witnessed and also for the history of our school board's efforts to address the facility requirements of our schools.

The first 20 minutes of the meeting was occupied by a discussion about whether or not the board needed to schedule additional meetings in the future to accomplish its business. As an audience full of observers waited patiently it was ultimately concluded that when and if the need for additional meetings arose, it would be taken up again at that time.

Next, 10 minutes was made available for public comment. Only one person spoke, eloquently, about the effect of space limitations at her childrens' school. Last year, the school psychologist was situated in a room accessed through the cafeteria, resulting in privacy issues. This year, the same room was assigned to the speech and language specialist. The speaker requested that the noise situation in the cafeteria be kept in mind when the schedule for speech and language was prepared. The underwhelming response amounted to a "Thank you for sharing."

Dr. Inserra then made his presentation on the facility requirements of the various elementary schools and the middle school. The main point of the meeting was to hear and discuss his recommendation for a short range plan to address these needs pending formulation, approval and execution of a long range plan to address those needs. The long range plan involves raising a bond for millions of dollars for construction to upgrade our schools based upon existing needs and increases in enrollment projected by "our consultants" down the road.

Rationally, Dr. Inserra expressed a desire to avoid, to the greatest extent possible, any conflict between the "short range" plan and the "long range" plan. Unfortunately, he was supposed to make a recommendation about a short range plan now, when the board is not scheduled to reach a conclusion about a long range plan for several months. Catch 22! Undaunted, he spent a good deal of time discussing the short range options he rejected and the reasons why, before recommending two "portable" classrooms at Daly. The other school's needs could be accommodated in their existing space, essentially because he believes the projected increases in enrollment are too unreliable to warrant any other resolution, as the projected increase for this year was not realized. One other feature of this presentation was the recommendation that students with special needs being served outside of the district be brought back in by making the current administration building available for a program serving their needs in the district. That could be accomplished by spending over a million dollars to relocate the administration in the Salem school building. Apparently, the need to do that will not conflict with the yet to be determined long range plan, and is more pressing than the inadequacy of the facilities serving our students now and until the long range plan becomes a reality.

After that presentation, the board members commenced a discussion about the remedy for Daly's inadequate facilities. I learned that some years ago, a bond issue was approved by the voters in our district for $2.5 million, $425,000 of which was earmarked to construct two permanent classrooms at Daly. Over $300,000 of that money still remains unspent, the balance of the earmarked funds having been consumed by cost overruns on other projects in the bond issue. Now, if the money is not spent on permanent classrooms, it will be returned to the taxpayers. Of course, that would only be temporary, since the cost of the portables would be at least the same amount as the funds already set aside for permanent rooms. But that's not all. There is a reason the permanent rooms were not built as planned. There was a structural problem at Daly that had to be corrected to accommodate the approved plan for the permanent classroom. That work was accomplished. Time and money was spent to do it. But the board sitting at that time decided to close the hole in the roof without allowing the authorized classrooms to be built, and the building permit expired in 1996.

To use the allocated funds now would require that new plans be submitted, signed by the current board president, superintendent of schools and architect. One of the more amusing moments came when the board president inquired of an architect in the audience what he thought of putting the permanent classrooms in the approved spot for which the structural problems had been addressed if he were the architect (which he apparently is NOT). The reply: "It would not be my favorite place to put it."

I regret to say that my patience and my need to retire for the evening at a reasonable hour prevented me from witnessing the conclusion to these riveting proceedings. I can only assume that the chances of progress are not much better now, than they were in 1994 when a building permit was issued for construction of the funded permanent classrooms in a location not favored by this unnamed architect. I therefore cannot say how this dance concluded, but after all, what would you expect from a dance school dropout?

David S. Pollack



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