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Letter: An Open Letter to the Mineola School Board Of Education

We, as members of the Mineola community, are writing to you regarding the consideration of configuration options for the Mineola School District. While there may be many views in the community about reconfiguration, we think that we can agree that getting feedback from all voices in the community is key to understanding what the views of the community are on this important issue. While the administration may have recommendations for the board’s consideration, it is the entire community that elects board members and to whom the board is ultimately accountable.

We thank the board for being willing to take on the issue of continuing budget increases in our district. We also commend the board for signaling its intent to seek public input through an exit poll at the budget vote.

We know that members of the community will find different factors important in deciding upon configuration options. While no doublt, a large part of the consideration will be financial, we have learned that in talking to residents, they will also be considering the educational, physical and mental well-being of the children attending our schools as well. There are some questions surrounding the possible pre-K to second grade scenario for the Willis Avenue School versus the Cross Street School, Hampton Street School or Meadow Drive School that we believe need to be answered in order for the community to be fully informed about the options being presented.

• What are the potential lease prospects for each of the elementary school buildings?

• What is being considered in terms of a playground area for pre-K students during recess for the Willis Avenue School? This same question would, of course, also apply to gym classes, which are often held outdoors in elementary schools during the fall and spring, field days and other outdoor activities that currently go on at the elementary schools now where all children are present with teachers, staff and parents at the same time?

• What is being considered regarding the installation of a working cafeteria as Willis Avenue does not have the capacity to cook hot meals or hold frozen items?

• What is being considered for Willis Avenue regarding a dedicated art or music room? Currently, for only pre-K and kindergarten, Willis Avenue has one room with no sink for cleanup and an inadequate storage facility.

• What is being considered in terms of an auditorium? There is no auditorium at Willis Avenue and there is no stage in the all-purpose room for educationally enriching activities. This lack of space has already been a problem at Willis Avenue. For example, in the past, there has been trouble with having enough room for the kindergarten “Moving Up” ceremony, which this year takes place over two days with four ceremonies.

• What is being considered with respect to parking concerns? This item is especially a concern since we are paying a lease for parking and it is set to expire in five years. What, if any, guarantee is there for the renewal and/or cost of the lease to use the lot at Willis Avenue?

• If, by chance, Willis Avenue needed construction because of a population increase, what is the feasibility for building on Willis Avenue as opposed to the other schools? Are the blueprints for the other schools more adaptable for needed room as the district feels is necessary for its students and/or as required by the state education department?

• We would like to know the cost of reconfiguring Willis Avenue versus additions to the other elementary schools. One of the reasons we have heard cited for reconfiguring the school system was to provide equity in the district while keeping the programs provided now at a level appropriate for the children. If there are costs involved in updating all the other schools to fit this configuration, we would like for them to be made public as well. The costs involved and all possible leases or information negating those costs should be made available to the community. A new school system that may involve some effort and money but provides equity in academics as well as other parts of the child’s life is something the community is entitled to consider deciding upon a configuration option.

• We also understand that because of the bond issued to build the Willis Avenue School, there are questions as to who can lease the site. This should also be relayed to the community and considered.

We understand that an exit poll will be conducted during the budget vote to gather information regarding the public’s view on reconfiguration options. We would ask you to ensure that any such exit poll is objective and without bias concerning one configuration option over another. And frankly, we think that a poll without answers to the questions of the type we have posed above would not be an informed view by the community. Thus, we would ask you to make answers to the above questions public so that the community will have this information available to it.

We respect the right of the community to express its views. All we ask is that there be enough information available so that a vote for an option can be meaningful. Given the ease of electronic communication, the input from the community can be sought at a later time in a number of ways such that missing the budget vote should not be seen as the only opportunity to gather information.

We, for the most part, are parents who have children who will be affected by the reconfiguration. However, we have also realized that we have an obligation to the community and district as a whole. We have supported a budget planning process that contemplated closing schools even though the exact plan for what schools would close and how this would be decided was not finalized. We did so with faith that the process for moving forward would be a real informed process, and not just a process that gave the appearance of getting public feedback. We ask that the board, assure the process is meaningful and that the information we have asked for, be made available to the public before any exit poll or vote on configuration options is taken.

We could not believe more strongly that it is the community’s voice that should be heard on this issue. It is, after all, the entire community that elects board members and to whom the board is ultimately accountable.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Larry and Anne Marie Egan and concerned Mineola residents