The Board of Education moved a bit closer to determining the best facilities options on Tuesday, August 15th, by eliminating two choices that were Princeton Plan variations. Eager to move ahead and reduce the number of plans under consideration, BOE President Richard Sussman mentioned that Úquot;we could still use a variation of a Princeton Plan,Úquot; in the future. But for now, these two options -- which would have grouped all K-2 students in two or three buildings, grades 3-5 or 3-6 in two or three other buildings, and either 6-8 or 7-8 in Weber -- are not being considered. And after four hours of discussing the pros and cons of each, the BOE did not make additional headway in winnowing the five remaining options; the majority voted instead to switch from facilities to its regular work session as the hour approached midnight.
The Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Al Inserra's presentation was strictly an examination of the educational advantages and disadvantages of each option. The costs provided, he stressed, were done in-house and not by architects or professional cost estimators; consequently, these numbers should not be relied upon for any purpose other than their comparative value. They also planned for an enrollment of 2400 with an option for 2500, and adopted a target class size of 20 students. Because the BOE has not yet turned its attention to the high school building, they used the cost estimate from the master plan. Thus, the same $21.3 million figure is used in every option as the estimate of high school costs. The five facilities options under consideration are as follows:
Option 1: Current Configuration with Four Elementary Schools (K-5) and One 6-8 Middle School
Estimated School Enrollment: Daly (540), Guggenheim (660), Manorhaven (540), Sousa (660), Weber (1200).
Option 2: Five Elementary Schools (Salem Reopened) and One 6-8 Middle School
Estimated Enrollments by School: Daly (400), Guggenheim (560), Manorhaven (440), Salem (400), Sousa (600), Weber (1200).
Option 3: Four Elementary Schools, including Reopening Salem (K-5), Two 6-8 Middle Schools
Estimated enrollments by school: Daly (600), Guggenheim (760), Manorhaven (540), Salem (500), Sousa Middle School (600), Weber Middle School (600).
Option 4: Four K-4 Elementary Schools, including Salem, and Two 5-8 Middle Schools
Estimated enrollments by school: Daly (500), Guggenheim (640), Manorhaven (500), Salem (400), Sousa Middle School (800), Weber Middle School (800).
Option 5: Five K-6 Elementary Schools, including reopening Salem, and one 7-8 Middle School
Estimated enrollments by school: Daly (540), Guggenheim (600), Manorhaven (540), Salem (500), Sousa (620), Weber Middle School (800).
The rough cost analysis, done by Administration, which emphasized that these are for comparative purposes only, totaled:
Option 2..................... $47,054,710
Option 5..................... $46,842,210
The estimates do not include space for the Pre-K program, Administration or Operations and Maintenance.
Reopening Salem School
BOE member Julie Meyer stated that the public will want to see Salem reopened as it is currently an unused school building. Mr. Sussman expressed some doubts, saying, Úquot;We don't want to reopen a school if someone has health or safety concerns about it.Úquot; BOE V.P. Bob Ferro reiterated this concern. But Mr. Zimmerman argued that Úquot;we hired so many consultants who said that the school is safe.Úquot;
Best Middle School Arrangement Argued
The BOE, educators, and community members focused especially on middle school options. Úquot;I don't see too much downside in two middle schools,Úquot; said the Superintendent. Weber Principal Matt Sanzone expressed his view that Úquot;two 6-8 or two 5-8 middle schools are preferable to one 1200 school at Weber.Úquot; The ideal size, he said, is 800 to 1,000. But some BOE members expressed concern about placing fifth graders with eighth graders, and had reservations about whether fifth graders were socially ready for middle school. BOE member John Zimmerman suggested contacting other districts with 5-8 middle schools, to explore the option.
At another point in the meeting, the BOE conversed about the 7-8 middle school option. BOE member Julie Meyer said she had gotten a lot of community input that favored returning to a 7-8 configuration. She said this seemed to be supported by psychologists, who had concerns about social pressure. Mr. Zimmerman cited NYS Education Department statistics indicating a significant number of districts with a K-6 arrangement, and a book he consulted found a large number of the top 250 districts in the country had 7-8 middle schools. But these points were countered by BOE member Peter Wezenaar, who said he had asked every elementary school principal for their view, and they all opposed returning to a 7-8 arrangement. Some teachers, he said, favored sending the sixth grade back. Úquot;I would not support a 7-8 school,Úquot; said Matt Sanzone. Úquot;It is such a huge step back...Within a week, sixth graders are positive, have spirit. And the Weber staff wants the 6th grade at Weber.Úquot; Daly principal Dr. Morris commented that he too was not in favor of returning the sixth grade to the elementary schools. A rancorous exchange ensued as Mr. Sussman noted the late hour and sought to table the discussion and return to the regular session, while other BOE members wanted to continue the dialogue. Úquot;I'm offended,Úquot; said BOE member Dean Nardone. With Mr. Nardone and BOE member Alan Baer voting against it, the majority of the BOE voted to table the discussion and turn to the regular session.
As it had during the previous meeting, some BOE members opposed, and others (the majority) favored community comments that related to the superintendent's report. In Mr. Sussman's view, only those agenda items about which the BOE takes some action, are topics about which the community can be allowed to comment. The superintendent's report, he insisted, does not meet the criteria. Úquot;The public can speak at the end,Úquot; he said. Úquot;Let's meet as a board, discuss and vote on how we want meetings to run,Úquot; suggested Mr. Zimmerman.
On other subjects, the BOE approved a contract with SCOPE for Consulting Services for Business, at a fee of $535 per diem, to temporarily fill the vacancy created by the retirement of the Assistant Superintendent for Business.
Continually monitoring enrollment numbers, Dr. Inserra said that several students are voluntarily transferring from one elementary school in the district to another, which might help ease class size in some situations. This ushered in a brief dialogue about inequities in class size between PW elementary schools. Úquot;It sends the wrong message when we have children going to classrooms much larger than others in the same grade. It's not fair to have differences in class size of this magnitude,Úquot; Mr. Zimmerman said. Úquot;I'm not happy either,Úquot; said Mr. Baer. Úquot;The process has to be refined. The disparity seems to be higher this year, at a high grade level. I don't think we should push administration to hire additional staff -- that's their decision. [We should] work toward having a better guideline.Úquot; Later, he brought up the problem of unsafe playing fields, and asked that the issue of outdoor athletic space be placed on a future agenda.
Wendy Cohen asked why plan five was close to $47 million when the Common Sense Plan was $32 million. [The Common Sense Plan was advanced by two BOE members last spring as an alternative to the proposed $87 million bond.] Mr. Sussman answered that it was not the same plan. Úquot;The cost analysis [for plan 5] was done in-house, not by professionals. It is for comparison purposes.Úquot; Moreover, he said the Common Sense plan was Úquot;only done for K-8; it doesn't include the high school portion.Úquot; Later, Mr. Zimmerman responded to a similar question, saying Úquot;We made different assumptions [previously] about the high school. Here, we haven't discussed the high school yet -- we just took the figure from the last bond.Úquot;
Former BOE member Nancy Cowles said that based on her 20 years experience working in a middle school setting, Úquot;A 1200 pupil middle school can run well or chaotically. It doesn't necessarily depend on the numbers. A good middle school will be developmentally appropriate and won't push the kids to grow up. Ours is still in the process of evolving.Úquot; High school student Eric Zausner voiced a strong preference for a K-6, 7-8 middle school configuration. Úquot;So many people are not ready to attend Weber in the sixth grade,Úquot; he said forcefully, Úquot;and why expose them to issues like smoking, etc.?Úquot;