Written by Rich Forestano: email@example.com Friday, 06 April 2012 00:00
Mineola School District Board of Education Trustee John McGrath last week responded to recent comments made by school board candidate Artie Barnett. The two seats up for election for next school year are McGrath’s and board president Christine Napolitano. He and Napolitano said they would seek re-election.
Barnett recently said in a letter circulating around Mineola that he plans to run for school board on May 15. He stated that McGrath is out of touch with the community.
“I fully support the re-election of board president, Christine Napolitano,” Barnett said. “She, along with Terry Hale and Will Hornberger, have diligently worked to move our district forward through a tough economy. I hope to join with them as they have shown the willingness to make the tough decisions.”
McGrath, who has been on the board for 13 years, pointed out that school board elections are run “at-large” indicating that no one person runs against another. The top vote getter will be elected.
“I’m fully aware that candidates run at-large,” Barnett explained, “but it doesn’t take too much intelligence to figure out that if I’m endorsing Mrs. Napolitano, I’m certainly running against him.”
The district realigned its schools starting this year, moving fifth grade to Mineola Middle School and eighth grade to Mineola High School. Cross Street School closed and was leased to Solomon Schechter Day School. Willis Avenue School will close in September, but could be leased by Harbor Day Care of Nassau County.
“With respect to [Barnett’s] claim that I fought reconfiguration is inaccurate,” McGrath exclaimed. “I disagreed with the board’s proposals for reconfiguration. I made different proposals which would have maintained neighborhood schools.”
McGrath intended to propose a merger with Herricks School District during reconfiguration talks, a plan exclusively revealed to the Mineola American, but the idea was ultimately nixed. McGrath also proposed the closure of the middle school.
The district floated two construction bonds before the public before going with the current configuration last year. Both bonds failed at the voting booths.
The first bond called for a $6.7 million construction project that would have resulted in the closure of three elementary schools. The second bond totaled $4.4 million and called for Meadow Drive School and Hampton Street School to house a pre-K-2 configuration, with the Willis Avenue and Cross Street schools closing.
“When the board put the first bond proposition before the public in October 2010, I publicly opposed that,” McGrath stated. “Mr. Barnett publicly supported it. The first bond was defeated by 80 percent of those voting.”
Jackson Avenue would have housed third through fifth grade with a sixth through eighth grade configuration at the middle school and a traditional ninth through 12th grade setting at the high school.
“I wasn’t really keeping score, but I can tell you for a fact that I never publicly endorsed the second bond, which [McGrath] said I did,” Barnett stated. “I did endorse the first bond and I did endorse the budget, but if he’s going to keep score, then I guess the budget passing is a loss for him.”
McGrath criticized the board’s decision to place the reconfiguration plan into the budget last year.
“Undeterred by two failed bond votes and restricted by law from putting another bond proposition before the voters, the board placed the money for its reconfiguration plan directly into the budget, funded by an overage in the district’s fund balance from 2010-2011,” McGrath said. “ I publicly opposed that plan as well. Mr. Barnett publicly supported it.”
Barnett said he wants to see reconfiguration through ensuring that the district receives the “maximum savings out of it that we’re trying to get” as opposed to spending any savings. He commented on a potential ticking time bomb in the Mineola teachers contract, which expired in July 2011 and negotiations have reached an impasse.
“Since [McGrath] abstained on the budget vote, he should’ve just voted no in the first place,” Barnett said. “It would’ve been a lot clearer.”
Contracts for four of the district’s bargaining units expired at the end of the 2011 school year.
“I don’t know if the impasse has been officially declared,” Barnett said. “I’d be interested to see where we are and I’d be interested in seeing where we go to where we are. If anyone thinks I’m going to want to sit at the bargaining table, I never intended for it to come across that way, but there are conversations that can occur where ideas are born, outside the bargaining table.”