Mineola motion to approach Herricks fails

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Mineola motion to approach Herricks fails
Photos Provided by Rivkin Radler

Mineola school board member members sharply criticized fellow board member John McGrath at last Thursday night’s meeting for discussing an idea to merge the Mineola and Herricks school districts with newspapers before presenting it to them and then declined to support his motion to approach the Herricks school board with the idea.

Members of both school districts dismissed McGrath proposal to merge the Herricks and Mineola districts in a Williston Times news story.

The Herricks School Board also rejected the indirect overture in a subsequent public statement.

“Mineola High School students would no longer be in an industrial area,” McGrath said, in presenting a plan to shutter the high school and middle school and eliminate administrators that he said would save the district $50 million to $70 million over the next decade. McGrath also said the state would give the districts $50,000 to draft a study of the prospective merger.

“Doing a feasibility study won’t cost us anything,” he said.

Board member Irene Parrino set offer a heated discussion when she seconded McGrath’s amotion to approach the Herricks school board.

Asked why he chose to address his idea with newspaper reporters before raising it at a public school board meeting, McGrath said, “My purpose in discussing it with the newspapers was to get the the community going in the conversation.”

And McGrath volunteered to act as messenger to Mineola’s neighboring school board.

“If the board wants someone to go to Herricks, I’d be happy to do that,” he said.

School board vice president Christine Napolitano and school board president Terence Hale unleashed a verbal barrage at McGrath – and his timing.

In a statement recounting the deliberative process the board and the community had pursued to plan elementary school consolidation, Napolitano said McGrath “suggested that we close both our high school and middle school while keeping all the elementary buildings open and cramming our children in with children from another district all while saving tons of money, with no supporting evidence of [your] numbers.”

Napolitano said McGrath “arrogantly assumed” that Herricks residents would be eager about a merger with Mineola, and questioned his motives.

“The only thing I can conclude is that it is your goal to disrupt the process anyway you can with little regard for the resident, their children and the reputation of this district,” Napolitano said.

“After we’ve had such an intense debate, you owed it to the community to discuss it first [here],” Napolitano said. “I would think the community would expect more of us than that. You’re entitled to your opinion.”

“I certainly am,” snapped McGrath.

A visibly exasperated Mineola school president Terence Hale said, “Maybe we’ll be forced to merge. Who knows? I don’t know. Maybe you’re a seer now and you can see the future. I don’t get it, John, I really don’t. We have to close schools. Get over it buddy. This $5 million to $7 million [savings] a year, you don’t know that for a fact,” he added, referring to McGrath’s savings estimate. “It’s just disturbing that you’re doing this to disrupt this effort.”

In a recent public statement, Herricks school board president Christine Turner said, “We do not believe that a merger is in the best interests of the community at this point.”

Turner also said the board had been “surprised” to see the issue addressed in local newspapers since it had not been broached through official channels.

McGrath said he had not brought his proposal up because the board never discussed a $6.1 million bond issue it was considering presenting to district voters as an alternative to the $6.7 million bond proposal that voters overwhelmingly rejected.

At its last meeting, the Mineola board voted to present a $4.4 bond proposal to build additional space to accommodate grades 3 through 5 at Jackson Avenue on a February ballot, and fund a $1.7 million addition to the Hampton Street School with its capital reserve.

The board later voted 2-2 on the motion to approach Herricks about a merger, with Parrino voting with McGrath in support of it.

But board member William Hornberger, who arrived just after the vote, said he would have put the kibosh on it.

“You mean ‘Herneola’?” he said when asked about it. “I would have said ‘No thank you’,” Hornberger said.

After the vote, Mineola Superintendent of Schools Michael Nagler reviewed the $4.4 bond plan approved by the Mineola board as part of a reorganization plan.

Nagler presented an artist’s conception of the new wing planned for the Hampton School to make it the Pre-K through grade 2 facility for the southern part of the school district – with a price tag higher than the $1.7 million contemplated. District architects H2M provided a 19-classroom addition with a library equipped with a media center dominated by walls with large modernistic rectangular glass planes in light and dark blue and varied rectangular shapes. An art room, music room and reading labs would also be part of the new space on Hampton, according to Nagler, who estimated the dimensions at 3,300 square feet for $2.1 million. Adjoining athletic fields, including a lacrosse field, would remain undisturbed.

“It’s kind of funky. It kind of fits in but it shows it’s a modern extension,” Nagler said, noting that uncertainty about the schools’ futures had preempted any improvements at Hampton or Cross Street, the first elementary school slated to be shuttered next year.

Projected costs include a contingency fund of $175,000 for overruns, but Nagler noted that the $2.1 million price “doesn’t cover anything.”

If the $4.4 million Jackson Avenue bond passes, that means the school district likely would spend more then $6.5 million on Jackson and Hampton. Most of the board members seemed favorably impressed by the plan, but Hale suggested paring down the space to 2,500 square feet.

“It looks great. But the community just turned down a $6.7 million bond. You think they’re going to approve a $6.8 million bond?” said McGrath. “Hey, if you guys want to do it, go right ahead.”

Afterwards, Nagler repeated that the two projects would be funded from entirely different sources, with capital reserve funds for Hampton Street not affecting the tax levy.

“I like the proposal of making a separate media center,” Napolitano said. “It does drive the cost up. But if we’re going to do something, we should do it right.”

The Hampton upgrade would redress an imbalance between that facility and the northern Pre-K through grade 2 school at Meadow Drive, which already has a media center, as well as arts and music rooms.

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