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School District Reconfiguration Bond Sees a Makeover

Bond Proposition Two Eliminated

The Mineola School District Board of Education began its meeting Nov. 18 at the Willis Avenue School with the intention of putting up a second bond vote with two propositions totaling $6.1 million. Proposition One saw $4.4 million to add space to the Jackson Avenue School while Proposition Two gave $1.7 million to expand the Hampton Street School, which was conditional on the measure for Proposition One passing.

The board decided to eliminate the second proposition, and pay for the expansion of the Hampton Street School out of its own pocket. The measure to spend the $1.7 million for Hampton out of the reserve fund was passed three-to-two, with Trustees Irene Parrino and John McGrath voting against. The date of the bond vote is Feb. 8, 2011.

“I think the last bond failed due to the multiple moving pieces involved in the proposed full-cluster transition,” Trustee William Hornberger said. “[The residents] voices were heard. I believe the board needs to make this proposal less complicated.”

Hornberger proposed that the district use $1.7 million from the undesignated fund balance to finance the construction on Hampton Street without a bond. This would make Hampton the pre-K-2 school south of Jericho Turnpike, the dividing line in the district reconfiguration. Hornberger stated that he feels Willis Avenue School is not the right place for housing a pre-K-2 configuration.

“By doing this, we will streamline the February bond vote in making it just one item,” Hornberger said. “It would be in line with the CCC recommendation of you can choose to either keep fifth grade or move. I believe it corrects the mistake of building this building that we are in today.”

The board would have to establish a separate capital reserve fund, then pass a resolution to begin the construction at Hampton using that capital reserve fund, then allow the community to vote whether to spend the money that is in the reserve, according to Superintendent Michael Nagler. The earliest the community could vote on that issue would be in May during the budget vote.

The board cannot fund the capital reserve and spend it in the same school year, forcing a delay until July.  School district Attorney Jack Feldman pointed out that the budget vote ends up being tied to the Hampton project.

“If you go down that road, and the budget fails then you have to fund the reserve anyway and vote at a later date to spend it,” Nagler said. He stated further that the budget would increase, but the tax levy would not since district would already have the funds.

“My understanding of the reserve is you cannot fund and vote in the same year,” Nagler stated. “So you cannot put it in this year. If you put the money in the capital reserve we already have, you have to wait until July to vote to spend it. So, if part of it is to expedite the process, the earliest the community could vote is in the budget.”

However, Nagler pointed out that the reserve fund would then go down. The fund as of Nov. 18 is $1 million over the limit of 4 percent of the total budget allowed by state law. He still recommended that the board put the bond up for vote.

“The community, from what I gathered, wants Hampton instead of Willis Avenue,” board president Terence Hale said. “I think that’s pretty clear. If there’s a way that we can do this through the budget and absorb it, I like the idea.”

Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Jack Waters stated that as part of the 2011-2012 budget, the district would have included in the budget, “the transfer for capital line of $1.7 million, which clearly in all of our budget documents would outline exactly how we intend to spend that money.”

“The way this bond works out, it’s going to be what we currently have in debt so your future budgets aren’t going to change from the debt service,” Nagler said. “We’re keeping us whole in our savings accounts.”

The superintendent added that the vote gives the community a chance to say if they want Hampton instead of Willis Avenue. If Hampton Street and the Meadow Drive School become the South and North schools, respectively, then Willis Avenue and Cross Street schools would close. The Willis Avenue building would continue to house the district offices.

“I don’t think the community’s going to support any bond,” Trustee John McGrath said. “I was planning to vote ‘no’ on this bond proposition for that reason irrespective of the $1.7 million for Hampton or the $4.4 million for Jackson.”

When asked about the budgetary issues, Dr. Nagler said that the target levy for 2011-2012 would still be around 2.5 percent. Board vice president Christine Napolitano said that she heard from a lot of people that residents wanted a chance to vote on the fifth and eighth grade moving and still deserve that right.

“We’ve gone this far,” she said in responding to McGrath’s comments. “The worst case they say no, and then we’re back to where we are. Why not give them a voice. That’s what this was all about. We always wanted to give them a chance to say.”