With the doors of each PW school poised to open the following morning for the start of the 2000-2001 academic year, the board of education met on Tuesday, September 5th, with an ambitious agenda that was to include a work session on resolving the district's facilities problems. Lengthy discussions on other topics, though, forced the postponement of focusing on facilities options to a second meeting held later in the week.
While there were sharply differing viewpoints on other matters, the school board was unanimous in its approval of academic intervention services. Such services, it was mentioned, are required by new state regulations. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Dr. Sheldon Karnilow, described aspects of the district's plan to help students who are at-risk of not meeting the new state standards. The plan, Dr. Karnilow explained, addresses four core areas: social studies, math, English, and science. "Much of the plan we already have in place," he said, adding that there are some new components too, such as before school/after school programs, Saturday classes, and the use of guidance counselors to run at-risk student groups. The services will be coordinated with special education. Dr. Sid Barish, Schreiber H.S. principal, with the assistance of Carmine Matina, assistant principal, gave a related presentation, illustrating how the schedules of both Schreiber teachers and students allow for extra-help sessions. By design, the schedules provide ample opportunity for teachers to meet with students for tutoring, he said.
The BOE was also unanimous in its acknowledgment of a new scholarship from the PW Soccer Club, which will be known as the Joseph Cohen Memorial Scholarship. One thousand dollars will be awarded to a graduating senior who has been involved with soccer and has a successful academic record.
In the Superintendent's report, Dr. Albert Inserra indicated that schools open this academic year with 4,440 students, an enrollment which exceeds projections. Schools are fully staffed. He noted his appreciation of the work done by Eric Vonderhorst and the operations and maintenance staff, especially in Weber.
Nevertheless, the BOE was divided on the issue of seeking community input for a facilities plan, and ultimately, frustrated that their lengthy discussion precluded addressing the specific facilities options themselves at this meeting. BOE member Julie Meyer was first to express her interest in scheduling three community forums to obtain input about the long-term facilities plan. But BOE member Peter Wezenaar disagreed. "I don't think everyone will take the time to evaluate the plan educationally," he said. "Tons of people don't care. Instead, poll the schoolchildren's parents for their views on grade configuration." BOE member John Zimmerman liked the idea of soliciting the community's views, but suggested using two-way mailers instead. He disputed Mr. Wezenaar's opinion, saying, "School districts belong not just to the parents...even people without children should have input."
Other BOE members also had little confidence in community forums. BOE member Dean Nardone commented, "Forums don't give you the entire story...you'll hear from such a small minority...for some, it's strictly dollars." Agreeing, BOE member, Alan Baer said, "It's not the plan; it's the dollars." He added, "I wouldn't vote the view of the majority of the public if educators, senior people, said it was educationally inferior." For his part, BOE President Richard Sussman felt holding forums immediately might be premature. "Let's wait until we have more of an outline of what the bond will be," he explained. In a vote of 5-2, the school board opted to postpone the community forums motion until their October meeting.
Comments from community members made it clear that many are growing impatient with what they perceive is a lack of progress on a facilities plan and bond. Elaine Berman urged the school board to "stop the squabbling" and move ahead, utilizing recommendations from administrators and educators. Another community member told the BOE, "You were elected to do one thing: get a bond before the community as quickly as possible." He added, "Stop messing around and spending 45 minutes debating where you'll hold forums. We need a bond; we need it now." The small audience applauded when he finished his remarks. Mr. Sussman expressed his frustration too, saying, "We need to make the meetings more productive. We spend too much time discussing the process."
The BOE had intended to finish their meeting and follow it with a work session devoted to school facilities. But with the hour approaching eleven o'clock, it was too late to review facilities issues in detail. The school board decided to schedule a second meeting later in the week for this purpose. They also postponed, to this next meeting, a motion by Mr. Wezenaar, to hold meetings every week until a bond is formulated.