In reading last weeks Port News, I felt the coverage of the Jan. 4 BOE meeting was fairly reported. However, there were some issues raised both by my fellow board members and other community members which I believe deserve a response. My fellow BOE members seem eager to criticize our "Common Sense Plan." However, none of them are even willing to consider a backup proposal despite its merits to the community in terms of benefiting children and preserving at least $5 million in extra state aid. In fact, the only person who seems receptive about an alternative or a backup plan is Dr. Inserra, which I believe is a credit to his perception of the issues and the needs of this community. On that regard, we have had discussions with the superintendent on the methodology of how to implement a back-up proposal and the steps that need to be taken for effective approval by the State Education Department. The net result is that as a district, we can submit two alternative plans to Albany and the community can have the choice of a backup plan. Sadly, this practicality cannot proceed without authorization from the current BOE, which steadfastly refuses to discuss it.
Some of the criticism from Mr. Strom I found particularly ironic. For instance he commented about the lack of gym and auditorium spaces in our plan. Evidently Mr. Strom has not carefully reviewed the BOE plan, because currently there are no planned renovations or additions to any school district auditorium. Likewise the gyms we have proposed are identical to the BOE proposals at every elementary school, so I am not sure where Mr. Strom is coming from. Mr. Strom did bring up a valid point about science rooms. We felt we have addressed this issue at the high school level, as our science wing addition is the exact wing as proposed by the BOE. After consulting with district personnel, we have been advised that some of the houses in Weber would need updated science facilities. We have updated our plan to include about $1 million in renovations to Weber to address these and other needs. But, the overall point here is that the Common Sense Plan has to be reviewed and fine-tuned by the experts available to the district. The only thing preventing this review is the refusal of the BOE to do so. While Mr. Strom asks for our resignations because he supports an $87 million bond, he fails to realize that the majority of people in Port Washington seemingly do not agree with his views. Considering that the BOE has spent 2 1/2 years developing a proposal that appears to lack sufficient community support, you would think Mr. Strom has requested the resignation of the wrong board members!
Similarly Mr. Greenstein asked why "The Common Sense Plan" figured the cost of the pool to be $3 million instead of $4.3 million. The answer is simple that the $3 million figure was the figure previously discussed and supplied by the school district architect, who by the way has never constructed a pool before either. The figure of $4.3 million was an arbitrary adjustment that was never discussed or reviewed with the BOE. Other criticisms of our Sousa proposal are more valid. Although we have subsequently added an additional $1.5 million for renovations and increased support spaces at Sousa, the comprehensive review of this proposal lies with the BOE and its professionals. As an example of the scope of this review, the BOE has spent over $300K on educational consultants excluding architectural fees, in part because our own architect was felt not qualified. The expectation that Sussman or myself are somehow qualified to perform such a review to the same comprehensive standards is unrealistic. These same rigorous standard must be applied to "The Common Sense Plan" as well. However, the BOE refuses to do so. With the millions of dollars we have spent on consultants and consultant's consultant, you would have expected the final BOE proposal to have more broad-based appeal and community support.
My oldest child will be entering the Port Washington School District starting this September, followed by my younger one the year after that. Certainly no one has a more vested interest in the success of our school district than I do. However, we must also realize that our community is very diverse, and that means it also has diverse expectations. Sometimes these expectations are not in congruence with our own. On that note, we believe it only makes logical sense for the BOE to develop a more sensible approach to solving our educational and space needs. This is particularly important because this may be the last year for the extra 10 percent state aid. In my opinion, our failure to not have a backup plan in light of public opposition to the current proposal is equivalent to playing "Russian Roulette" with both the kids' education and the taxpayers' trust. The cost of this gambling strategy by the majority on the BOE could very well result in the loss of a minimum $5 million in extra state aid. If this bond cannot be supported, we must have a sensible alternative ready for the voters before our school district loses the extra state aid. Anything less would be a dereliction of the fiduciary duty of this board of education.
I urge my fellow board members to do the following: If you are that confident in the proposed $87 million bond proposal, them certainly "The Common Sense Plan" as a backup would pose no threat. It would however provide adequate insurance to our school district for the points mentioned above, and would also provide similar assurance to our community of the BOE's fiscal responsibility. To refuse, and rely on the argument that a back-up plan will only confuse the community, is an insult to the intelligence of every eligible voter. Ultimately, the only people who will be confused are those who will still be wondering why the bond referendum was defeated while the question marks and doubtful public support were loud, clear and obvious to the rest of us. Unfortunately it will be those same people who are to blame for having been the cheerleaders to which the BOE relied upon, when refusing to act with basic business foresight and plain old common sense.
School Board Member