Plan C for Mineola schools

Plan C for Mineola schools


The Mineola School Board has switched tactics in its initiative to consolidate elementary schools in the district, opting to fund construction at the Hampton Street School with $1.7 million from its capital reserve fund and putting a $4.4 million bond proposal to expand the Jackson Avenue School up for a vote in February.

The $4.4 million bond proposal to add eight classrooms on Jackson Avenue to accommodate grades three through five was originally to be tied to a second $1.7 million bond option to add four classrooms at Hampton, making it the south school for grades Pre-K through 2, and eliminating the Willis Avenue School from the reconfiguration.

Changing the bond proposal effectively will let residents decide on whether fifth graders would move to the middle school and eighth graders would relocate to the high school – both controversial changes that would be part of the so-called default option for consolidation that would require no bond to expand existing facilities.

Retaining Hampton Street would maintain elementary schools north and south of Jericho Turnpike – with Meadow Drive as the north school – acceding to residents’ preferences on that issue. Although the Willis Avenue school is the newest and largest of the school district’s buildings, it has emerged as the facility most residents want to jettison.

“We need to move forward with the community,” board member William Hornberger said at Thursday night’s board meeting. “Continuing to discuss this is debilitating.”

Hornberger broached the idea of separating the two bond propositions, designating Hampton Street as the south school and dropping Willis from the scenario “to correct the mistake” of building it.

Board member John McGrath, of the first proposal that went to voters said he also opposed Hornberger’s plan.

“I don’t think the community’s going to support any bond. I say kill the whole thing,” McGrath said.

“Why not give them the voice? Give them the chance to vote,” responded board vice president Christine Napolitano.

When McGrath objected to “fundamentally changing” the original two-part bond proposal being considered for the Feb. 8 ballot, Hornberger reacted angrily.

“You’re talking in circles. If you’re going to vote ‘no’, vote ‘no’. We know where you want to go, whether it’s ‘Herneola’ or whatever. Do whatever you want to, and put it up on your Facebook page,” Hornberger snapped.

“Herneola” referred to the concept of merging the Mineola and Herricks school districts that McGrath had recently floated in an interview with the Williston Times. The idea was summarily dismissed by members of both school boards.

The board approved putting the $4.4 million bond proposal on a February ballot by a 3-2 vote, with McGrath and Irene Parrino voting against the proposal, as they had done on the $6.7 million bond proposal that was overwhelmingly rejected by district voters in late September.

While the board did not vote on allocating the $1.7 million in capital reserve funds for the Hampton Street project, the board members informally expressed consent for Mineola Superintendent of Schools Michael Nagler to instruct school district architectural firm H2M to proceed with drawings. Nagler had exhorted the board to include the $1.7 million bond option in the February vote, but also suggested the option of putting the Hampton Street project in the 2011-12 school budget. Nagler had noted that the $1.7 million expenditure would have no effect on the tax levy.

Designating capital reserve funds for the projects would effectively make the school budget a referendum on the $1.7 million Hampton Street project. If it is approved with the budget, Nagler pointed out that the funds could not actually be spent until the following year, since approving capital reserve expenditures and spending the funds are prohibited from occurring in the same calendar year.

School board attorney Jacob Feldman expressed his reservation about potentially complicating the budget approval process with funding for a Hampton Street School project.

“I am concerned that you don’t want your budget to fail on a $1.7 million item,” Feldman said.

Nagler said if the initial budget vote failed because of that item, the $1.7 million expenditure could be excised for a second ballot.

At the outset of the meeting, the district auditor told the board its general fund balance of $5.8 million exceeded state guidelines, which supports the idea of designating some of that money in some constructive way.

“Technically, we’re over what we have in that fund. So we have to spend it on something,” Napolitano said after the meeting.

The board isn’t facing any immediate time pressure on designating the $1.7 million for the Hampton Street expansion, according to Feldman, who said the board still had time to address it as a budget item.

After voters rejected the shuttering of two elementary schools earlier this year, the school board remains on track to shutter one school, Cross Street, at the end of the current school year and lease it.

Nagler said a the upper floor of the Willis Avenue school could still be used for the district offices.

Since the building was funded with a bond that has not yet been paid off, the school board could only lease the property to a non-profit organization.

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