Our community is currently faced with a major decision which will affect us well into the new millennium. Granted, our fine school district is in trouble and we do need to address the structural and space issues. I would like to thank all of the school board members for their hard work and commitment. I would also like to apologize for the 20/20 hindsight I am about to offer and for the fact that many of us were not more aware of, and involved in, the planning process. Let us leave behind the petty personal attacks and divisiveness that have gone along with this process and pull together as a community to address these important issues. This being said, a bad idea presented well can look like a good idea and vice versa.
We are about to vote on an $87 million bond issue which many agree will increase our overall school taxes by 13 to 15 percent which will be locked in for over 20 years. Add to this the fact that there probably will be additional costs associated with staffing increases and the inevitable cost overruns which will likely result in some part of the plan remaining incomplete. Let us also not forget that Moody's Investors Service downgraded Nassau County's short and long-term bond ratings on Feb. 17 to the lowest investment grade possible and that any further downgrade would put Nassau at speculative levels, and we can assume that interest and borrowing costs for the county will spiral upward. We in Port Washington tend to be an insular community, but we must realize that we will soon be called upon to help bail our county out of its fiscal crisis. In other words, expect your tax bill to rise with or without the school bond issue. Despite four interest rate increases over the last eight months, the chairman of the Federal Reserve stated that the central bank will probably raise rates further to avert a buildup of inflation (NY Times, 2/18, p. 1). Thus, our bond issue will surely cost more than we expect. Yet we are being urged to pass this bond quickly so we can take advantage of a state aid bonus. I am no economist but I don't rush out to make extravagant purchases just because there's a sale!
Other issues trickle down from these events such as the fact that families will be more stressed by the additional tax burden. They will have to work longer, harder, send spouses into the work force, etc. This takes parents out of the home where they are needed. Our children need us more, not less, as they enter into adolescence. These are the years when they are faced with moral dilemmas, social and cultural pressures which require parental awareness and supervision. Yet every working parent knows that emotional reserves decrease as workload increases, leaving less time and energy for that special attunement with family members.
There has been much discussion about the configuration for a middle level school and research given out at school board meetings supporting the point of view that sixth graders do better in a middle school setting. This is simple hogwash. There is research available to support the opposite view as well, and all of the colleagues I consulted with agreed that an extra year of childhood before true adolescence can help more than hurt. Just look around our country and see what our teenagers are feeling, thinking and living. They are little pressured psuedoadults riding the fast lane to emotional upheaval. Our sixth graders belong in the elementary school where they can be closely supervised and undergo the physiological, cognitive and emotional development inherent in this age group without the complex social and sexual demands of older teenagers. If the board insists on a three year middle school, then take the ninth graders out of the high school where 14-year-olds are "hooking up" with 17 and 18-year-olds and put them back with the seventh and eighth graders. Perhaps they will find some peace of mind and focus on appropriate developmental issues instead of what the media and their older peers demand of them.
There is also much research to support the idea that middle school is a critical time period in a youngster's life, and that smaller middle schools are preferred. While our administration has been quite creative in instituting the house system, it is far from ideal. Children still fall through the cracks and feel overwhelmed by the size of the present school. What happened to the possibility of two smaller middle schools which could offer individualized attention and better supervision? And of course, there is the part of the plan which turns Weber into an elementary school. It seems common sense that small children ought not to be so close to a major thoroughfare like Port Blvd. and that we probably could find a better location for our little ones than next to the high school.
Finally, there is the issue of traffic and congestion. Anyone who has been in bumper to bumper traffic along Port Washington Boulevard at 3:15 p.m. must realize that all of the traffic will have to be routed through our town along Main Street and the adjacent side streets. I have heard people say that the upset Soundview residents are only concerned because everyone will be looking for shortcuts through their streets and its a case of "not in my backyard." This is patently untrue. The traffic congestion on Port Blvd. stays on the edge of town while this congestion will be routed through most neighborhoods north of Port Blvd.
There are alternatives and we, as a community, need to find them. Yes, we need to spend money and vote on a bond. Yes, we need to structurally improve our schools and expand capacity. But we also need to pay attention to what is developmentally appropriate for our children, to what is fiscally responsible, to what the increased congestion will mean to many of our neighborhoods. We are an intelligent community, let us put our heads together and rework this plan. Vote No!
Rhonda M. Yoss-Kaplan, Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology)