Port Washington has just had its say about the way our board of education was planning the future of our local schools. The verdict was negative and I was one of those who concluded that they had it wrong. Unlike some, I firmly realize that we now have to get it back together quickly and come up with solutions that can be accepted by the clear majority.
Some of those voting "no" felt that the plan presented by the board created as many problems as it solved; others that it was an expensive Cadillac; and a few that nothing more for education was legitimate. For those in the first two groups there is now a moral obligation to come together with the proponents and arrive at a plan which can really pass. Those who don't recognize that our school facilities are now becoming a drag on our excellent educational program are simply burying their heads in the sand. We do have more students and the number is growing, even if you question alarmist predictions. While we managed to muddle through when we had more students in the past, new mandates from the state, the natural demands of new technology, and our smaller number of buildings in which to juggle programs, have made square foot comparisons dubious.
Leaving it to the future is what brought us to this point. Saving money by selling off buildings rather than warehousing them is costing us now. The longer we wait to start, the more traumatic the effort when it finally has to come. We have an ethical responsibility to face the problem now. That much the board got right.
But we can't do everything at once. Our board of education seems to have assumed they could only come to the well one time. In so doing they made the stakes too high. Let's take the easy steps immediately and have a plan ready to consider when they are completed. Take the existing plans for Salem and pass a smaller bond immediately. Then take the existing Flower Hill building and reopen it as an elementary school. This might inconvenience our administrators who want it for themselves and it would present problems for those who want to expand preschool. But the legitimate value of preschool lies with educationally deprived communities, not Port Washington, and providing day-care is not a community responsibility.
Given that the age bump hits elementary school before middle school, we can finish that effort and then reuse Flower which was refitted for that purpose recently. If the middle school grows further, incremental expansion can then be contemplated. That leaves the high school where the age bump will eventually produce a crisis. Things are now crowded, but not yet beyond the ability to improvise. That will come later.
There is always a downside. The real downside here is that current elementary children will have to be relocated once or more during their elementary careers. But is that really more disruptive than having every elementary student living in schools which are all undergoing major renovation (indeed reconstruction) at the same time. I doubt it. Personally, I feel that the perceived disruption will be greater for the parents involved and I am certain that is not an unreasonable burden for the rest of the taxpayers to expect them to pay.
But here I say it again. If we simply fall back exhausted from the political controversy we have just been through and fail to pick up the pieces immediately, we will create a catastrophic problem for our school system in the near future. Both those who want unlimited spending on behalf of their children and those who no longer reap the benefits must compromise. If they don't, we will change a good system with specific problems into another New York City. This is Port Washington.
Robert S. Tarleton