It has been 60 days since the failure of the $87MM bond vote, and I for one believe that our Board of Education should be a lot more proactive in finding solutions and alternative proposals. I am still a firm believer that our space issues can be solved with a bond in the $30-$35 million dollar range if we switch our configuration to a 7-8 middle school - the Common Sense Plan. Upon further review of this alternative plan, it may be possible to drop these costs even further to about $20-25MM by adopting a Princeton Plan. A Princeton Plan groups early level learners (the primary grades), intermediate level learners, middle school learners, and then high school students. A Princeton Plan would allow us to keep our smaller schools (Manorhaven, Daly, and Salem) small and save millions of dollars in the process. Any person involved in education knows that the single most important factor in deciding the success of students is the quality of the teacher that you have in front of the classroom. The #2 and #3 factors are probably class size for younger learners, and overall school size. Contrary to modern folklore, when it comes to education "smaller is better," not only for class size and school size, but bond size as well.
From my perspective nothing has changed since May 16, including the fact that there has been no significant discussions on this (or any) alternative plan or bond proposals. When my friends and neighbors ask me what has the board been doing since the election, I am embarrassed to admit we have done almost nothing on the subject. We have difficult decisions to make here. Delaying leads to only one thing: an interim short-term proposal that is not in the best long term interests of the school district. The net result would mean adding significant costs and infrastructure to the Weber School to solve our short-term needs without solving our overall district problems. Thus, by default, the decision will have been made to make Weber one of the largest middle schools on Long Island. The Weber School is overcrowded now, and its poor physical plant and location would only be amplified with a major expansion. The key to solving our educational program is to keep our schools smaller, while as much as possible, bringing quality educational programs down to the lower grade levels.
It seems to me that the board should separate its issues and try to tackle some of them simultaneously. Some suggestions could be: Are we happy with our design consultants? Should we solicit fresh perspectives? Can we examine our plans for the high school as an independent issue? Or what specific design aspects can be reworked to lower the costs? Obviously the list could go on and on. I think that we are at a standstill and that the board has to either "cook the breakfast or turn off the stove." Whether we end up with a 7-8 program, or we choose a dual 5-8 program let's do it for the right reason. But above all let's not choose an option that we think will work just because it takes the path of least resistance. Likewise starting with a dollar figure first seems to put the cart ahead of the horse in terms of accountability to the community. Let's not make the same mistake we did last time by choosing an option because it appeals to any one particular group that may shout louder than the next. Let's choose an option because it makes sense, because it can be supported programmatically, and above all, because it is responsible to the voters of this community who gave an ample signal of what they would support.
The board of education has spent almost three years on this project; and quite frankly, I don't believe now is the time to start over and begin from scratch just because we have new board members. We need everyone's input, but we also need to reach some decisions and overcome this apparent inertia that the problem will somehow solve itself - before the space crunch forces us to react out of desperation instead of inspiration. Perhaps we should begin by making a series of smaller decisions to help guide us to the larger decisions. Examples could be: Are we committed to opening up the Salem School? Or are we committed to smaller schools and small class sizes? Or do we want to have one of the largest middle schools on Long Island? Maybe we should draw up a few proposals and let the community democratically decide their preferences before we put it up for final referendum. Either way from where I sit, I don't see this process moving forward effectively. We have 4,406 reasons why we have to work quickly to reach a resolution and next year we will have almost 200 more. I urge everyone to give the Board of Education your input; or else the board will decide it for you.