Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 16 April 2010 00:00
When the Mineola School Board made a decision at its February meeting to close two schools, it was perhaps the most monumental decision this current board has made. A committee, commissioned by the board, had a decision just as difficult in recommending a plan to the board to reconfigure the schools of the district with five schools instead of seven.
At Thursday’s board meeting, the committee, known as the Community Committee on Consolidation (CCC), made its recommendation to the board of education. The recommendation was met with by some surprise as it called for the closing of the Willis Avenue School, which serves all of the district’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes on the first floor with central administration offices on the second floor.
The Willis Avenue School opened in 2003 after district residents passed a bond referendum in 2000 to build the school. But, according to the CCC’s recommendation, the school would close by September 2011.
However, the Willis Avenue School wouldn’t completely be closed to the district. The central administration offices on the second floor would remain while the district would try to lease out the first floor, which was built for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.
The CCC’s recommendation was met with some criticism from some members of the public because the plan also calls for a $7 million bond referendum to go before voters this coming fall in order to build eight classrooms onto the Jackson Avenue School.
The plan calls for the Willis Avenue School to close before the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Two elementary schools would then be used to serve the district’s pre-kindergarten through second grade classes. Jericho Turnpike would be used as the dividing line with those living south of Jericho Turnpike going to the Hampton Street School. Either the Cross Street School or Meadow Drive School would be designated as the school for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade who live north of Jericho Turnpike.
The Jackson Avenue School and either Cross or Meadow (whichever one isn’t being used for pre-kindergarten through second grade) would be used for all of the district’s third through fifth grade students with approximately 350 students attending Jackson and approximately 250 attending Cross or Meadow.
Mineola Middle School, which serves sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and Mineola High School, which serves ninth through 12th grades, would remain the way they are.
If the $7 million bond were to pass this fall, work would eventually begin to build an addition onto the Jackson Avenue School. Once the work is completed, the Jackson Avenue School would then serve the entire district’s third through fifth grade students.
Hampton and either Cross or Meadow would serve pre-kindergarten through second grade as the south-north schools and either Cross or Meadow would close.
Some members of the public who spoke at last week’s board meeting after the CCC made its recommendation were perplexed that, under the committee recommendation, district taxpayers would have to spend money to build onto an existing school in order to save money by closing two schools.
Committee member Robin Bischoff, who is also the co-president of Mineola District Council PTA along with Patricia Navarra, explained that the committee looked at numerous options. In fact, she said that during a meeting of the CCC, there were 12 options posted on the wall.
However, the committee felt that children should stay in one school as long as possible at a young age. Therefore, as part of the configuration, students will be in the same school from pre-kindergarten through second grade under the committee’s plan.
The committee also debated whether fifth grade should be moved to the middle school and eighth grade should be moved to the high school. If the school board decided to shift those grades, then construction on the Jackson Avenue School would not be necessary. The committee ended up recommending the middle school and high school should remain as is.
However, if the $7 million bond was to fail this fall, the committee is recommending a second option, which includes shifting the fifth grade to the middle school and the eighth grade to the high school.
“Both options have pros and cons but both will deliver an exceptional learning environment and experience for children. Both options will begin with closing Willis Avenue in September 2011,” stated Mineola Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Nagler, on his blog on the district’s website.
The plan is certain to be discussed at future board meetings as the board prepares the proposed 2010-2011 budget to put before voters in May as well as a referendum for this fall. The tentative 2010-2011 budget stands at a 1.1 percent spending increase over the 2009-2010 budget and a 2.5 percent tax levy increase.
The next school board meeting will take place tomorrow, Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. It will be either at the Willis Avenue School or Mineola High School. Check the district website at www.mineola.k12.ny.us prior to the meeting for the correct location.