Beginning anew the process of developing a long-range facilities plan for the School District, the BOE favored a "build and plan" model at its July 25 meeting. Actual building/renovation is likely to be based on live-birth numbers and other data, while leaving room for expansion should the student population exceed projections. Based on the enrollment forecasts, and in a nonbinding, close vote, the BOE chose to build for a total student body of 2400, while planning for 2550. Moreover, seven ideas for building usage and grade reconfiguration were proposed, for which the BOE has requested cost estimates. The school board hopes to present these options and the corresponding costs to the public, for their input and their choice of the plan to be placed before the community as a bond referendum.
Deciding on the estimated number of students to be served, which will shape the facilities plan, was no easy task. Dr. Inserra explained that live birth data from 1997 is the most recent year available, which is a major factor in predicting the number of students entering kindergarden in 2002. For each following year, an outside consultant recommended using a 2 percent increase as the pattern of growth; other districts use 3 percent. Still, student population numbers are fluid and hard to predict. In answer to BOE member Julie Meyer's question about how long prior growth trends lasted, Dr. Inserra commented that in the past he met with LILCO/LIPA and the LI Planning Board, among others, to help forecast as accurately as possible. "There is a national downward trend expected around 2006-7 , but locally, we might not show that pattern," he explained. After much discussion, a majority of the BOE decided build for 2400 students and plan for 2550, leaving some room to grow.
The board agreed to other principles which are needed to formulate a long-range facilities plan, but emphasized that these decisions were for planning purposes only. They agreed to use a class size of 20 in the elementary schools and 25 in the middle school for this planning phase. While expressing that he "despises portables," BOE member Dean Nardone added, "but we may not be in a position now to remove them." Again, at least for planning, the portables will be counted as classrooms. And much discussion followed when it came to classroom size. BOE member Jon Zimmerman advocated setting a minimum acceptable room size, saying "I'm not in favor of classrooms in the low 700 sq. foot range ... we should try to make them larger, at least 750 sq. feet." But BOE colleague Peter Wezenaar countered that in general, he was "against toppling walls." BOE member Alan Baer proposed finding alternative uses for smaller rooms. In a close vote, four BOE members voted to keep the classrooms at their current size, again for the purposes of planning. BOE President Richard Sussman explained that it (room size) would be adjusted when they moved on to that stage, and when they examined the rooms building by building. Mr. Sussman also suggested not tackling the high school as yet, because the specific alterations have not yet been decided. The larger spaces, like gyms, were also excluded from consideration at this meeting.
On the subject of grade configuration and building usage, Mr. Sussman presented various options, wishing to elicit community and educator responses. The seven ideas mentioned were as follows:
1. Keep the school system in its current configuation, but expand the buildings,
2. Keep the school system in its current configuration, but reopen Salem as a school,
3. Create two 6-8 middle schools,
4. Create two 5-8 middle schools,
5. Return the 6th grade to the elementary schools; only grades 7 and 8 attend Weber; reopen Salem,
6. Follow the Princeton Plan, which offers different groupings such as k-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. There are many variations.
7. Group students in a k-4, 5-6, 7-8, and 9-12 arrangement.
Mr. Zimmerman hoped to develop three options, suggesting that the board get feedback from the community regarding their preferences. The preferred plan would then be presented as a bond referendum. "This would bring everyone into the process," he said. Administration was asked to report on the educational advantages and disadvantages of each of the proposals, and were asked to try to provide cost figures (excluding the high school changes and changes to large spaces like gymnasium.) Without a business official, obtaining the cost estimates might be hard, the superintendent reported. The BOE hopes to review this new information at its August 15 meeting.
Move to Reinstate Two Special Ed TAs Defeated ... for Now
Restoring two special education teacher assistants to the budget was
advocated strongly by Jon Zimmerman. These positions were cut when the board sought to reduce the budget's size after its defeat this spring. He pointed out that with several more retirements than expected, the funds were available; in addition, these positions are a relatively small amount of money. His comment, "this will help kids come up to speed," was reinforced by Daly principal Dr. Morris, who called the TAs "critically important." But mindful of fulfilling the voters' support of a smaller budget, and concerned about "running down our fund balance" which could be used to reduce taxes, some school board members reluctantly opposed this proposal. Mr. Sussman commented that the issue could be revisited after reviewing back-up materials indicating a substantial need. The motion was narrowly defeated, in a vote of 3-2-2.
Unhappy about the TA decision, SEPTA President Larry Greenstein commented, "I don't remember voters asking for raises for administration. How can the community trust this board?" Moreover, "The resource room teachers are already overworked" he added.
Ellen McCulloh and a representative group of Guggenheim parents presented the BOE with signed petitions asking that a teacher's line, which was recently restored to the budget, be specified for Guggenheim's fifth grade. Reminding the BOE that this issue was to be revisited in July, she commented, "Without (this teacher), the average class size will be just over 24." Of all the elmentary schools, this one scored the lowest on English Language tests, she reminded the school board.
The issue of portables resurfaced when Robin Shroeder asked that old portables -- more than 25 years old, without bathrooms -- be retired.
Frank Russo requested that an additional polling place be considered, such as the Sousa School, especially to help those senior citizens who had no means to vote in the last election. His second request was their consideration of posting "In God We Trust," the national motto, in both Weber Middle School and Schreiber High School.