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Letter: Concerning School Consolidation, Increased Opportunities for Students

The prime focus of any board trustee should be to seek ways to expand educational opportunities for all our students.

We would like to thank the Patch for objectively which has been overlooked by our community, that being the under utilization of our schools.

Mike’s reporting was fair but does not demonstrate all the areas of concern. Additional workshops are in the offing which will consider other factors. While there is much to evaluate, trustees Lavelle and Houdek have offered a plan which goes beyond a single school closure, as discussed in the last workshop, and includes increased offerings to all our students while working within the confines of the state imposed tax cap.

The prime focus of any board trustee should be to seek ways to expand educational opportunities for all our students. Sadly over the last few years this has not been the case. Last year we were forced to eliminate 56 teaching positions. This is a direct hit to the student body and represents losses in services which can never be recouped.

As the , we have major underutilized space and projections for further decline. In fact, by 2020 we expect enrollment to decline by an amount equal to that of an entire elementary school. It makes no sense to pay for the administration, infrastructure, utilities and maintenance of dead space at the expense of providing services to the children of Pat-Med.

The current buzz word in the state educational community is consolidation. What we have proposed, is to rationally restructure the district, through consolidation within the district and to funnel ALL the savings into restoration of services and increased educational options for all our students.

How can we achieve this? First some facts must be explained. The tax cap limits growth in the current budget. Historic voting patterns in Pat-Med leave little hope that we can override the cap. This growth barely matches the increases in steps, medical, and pension costs (without even considering future raises for our bargaining units). As a result the status quo CANNOT restore, or even consider, any increased educational offerings under the current budget structure. Maintaining dead space is a bad idea. We need to squeeze savings from dead space in order to find the funds for restoration.

Our middle school structure is an amalgam of two school types. Sixth grade teachers are considered by the state and placed in the tenure group of Elementary School teachers. Our seventh and eighth grade teachers are in the Secondary School category. South Ocean, Saxton, and Oregon are in effect both Elementary and Secondary Schools, and the teachers in those groupings cannot support duties in the other areas. This makes little sense from an effective administration point of view.

Our plan would return the sixth grade back to their home elementary schools. This would maintain the focus within the district on community schools and help foster parental involvement. Our plan would bring together all the seventh and eight grades into the . This would foster the development of a true middle school, with equal offerings to children regardless of where they live in the district. Presently your location with the district determines what choices are available to your child.

The smaller schools do not have enough individuals to adequately staff teams, bands, etc. They also do not have enough students for true honors courses, the type necessary to elevate our standards and provide a foundation for excellence, allowing us to consider developing Intel scholars within the district. We need to challenge our Administration with this goal.

The net affect of this change would be to better utilize the Elementary School space and consolidate all the dead space into two locations, in order to affect significant savings. The dead space within the high school would be used to house centralized district needs.

What do the savings provide? First, savings are achieved within the confines of the existing budget without asking more from our over burdened tax payers. For every $1,000,000 we can hire 12-13 new teachers. As demonstrated by our financial staff, the closure of South Ocean will realize a million dollars in savings. We expect the closure of Oregon to net similar savings. This means we have the ability to restore cuts. When fully implemented, 24-26 new teachers can be rehired if we simply accept the district’s estimate.

Additionally, the flaws within the single school closure model (presented on Tuesday) can also be corrected. 9:00 lunch is an outside potential only when viewing a 6, 7, 8 middle school model. Superintendent Locantore speaks fondly of his tenure as the Principal of Saxton at a time when there were 1,200 students. The seven – eight middle school model will mean only 1,100 students at Saxton (a school which served at one time as our High School). The experienced learned then, (without early or late lunches) will prevail in the new model.

Class size would not increase, since we are not cutting teaching positions. The only change is where the teaching will occur. Should the board adopt our idea of funneling all savings back into restoring and increasing educational opportunities, some classes may in fact drop in size.

As part of the single school closure model, busing is a concern. This occurs because we continue to bus most of the sixth graders to the middle school. By returning these students to their local elementary schools we should see an offset, which is currently being looked at, between less sixth grade busing and increased seventh and eighth school busing.

If evaluated properly, a single middle school can provide an improved athletic program. If we follow the model of other districts with one middle school, we can establish A and B teams, no longer require smaller schools to bus their students in order to participate on a team, and effectively establish a consistent (and sorely lacking) feeder program for all sports to our high school varsity teams. No Patchogue-Medford team, in recent memory, has made Newsday’s top 10 list. A strong feeder system can address that situation.

There are other savings which go beyond those demonstrated in the last workshop. Additional declines in the required administrative staffs can be achieved. The district is looking for an around the clock security presence at South Ocean. Current experience with our rotating security has demonstrated that all schools (empty during off hours) can adequately be protected without incurring the additional $100,000 per school, the district factored in to their numbers. As the process unfolds we expect these savings, bus savings, and other intangible costs to result in perhaps another $250,000 to $500,000 in savings. Again this should go right to the children and their needs. Through effective outreach to the community we can turn these buildings into viable rental properties and provide further resources to address the needs of our students.

This discussion boils down to several key issues which each impact the other. As demonstrated by our Assistant Superintendent for Finance, this is a two year process. The strategic planning for this effort needs to happen now, the Board shouldn’t wait. Our prime focus is the children and as trustees we intend to make sure that they receive all available resources. Gone are the days when we could afford to simply maintain the district as is. We must look forward for bold, innovative ideas. In the end this issue needs to be fully discussed. We ask the community to keep an open mind until all options are on the table. We shall also keep an open mind and as a community achieve what is best for the educational needs of children.

 

Sincerely,

William Lavelle & Brett Houdek

Trustees

Patchogue Medford Board of Education

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Bunnie January 28, 2012 at 01:55 AM
from what i understand all the studies are not finished, I believe even Locantore has said he is waiting to get all information back, closing BOTH middle schools in my opinion , especially one that is in a residential area that will probably be hard to rent out is a large, considering closing one is one thing but 2 is a different thing! I for one will pull all 3 of my kids out before I allow there education to suffer more by more bad decisions. it wasn't that long ago we had to expand and build to keep up with the projected increase and now we are told we have to close down because of a projected decrease. How about we think about some other logical steps like transportation, consolidating some administrative positions.. there are lots of things that could be done,
Kim January 28, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Mr. Houdek, I have read the study that is posted on the District website. Again, in addition to our concerns over increased class sizes, the residents in the waterfront area of this community are deeply concerned over yet ANOTHER building abandoned and boarded up in our neighborhood.
Bunnie January 28, 2012 at 02:14 AM
and just to be clear, I am not against our community having discussions on various ways to save or consolidate different things but I think it should be done wisely and with much thought and facts. Instead people find that yelling and cursing when everyone doesn't agree with them are ways to communicate which is deplorable and should not be tolerated. We are all adults and adult conversations should be had.
Christie January 28, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Right now I think it is a bad idea. There was suppose to be a committee set up to look at all of this. I just can not go on the word of 2 board members. Closing a school in the Village of Patchogue I think would truly hurt the growth that has begun. No young family is going to want to plant roots in a community where the kids have to be bused miles away and be squished in over populated classrooms. I think there are still other places in the budget for cost savings plus I think it is a negotiation year. Brett I think you really need to push for that committee if you want your idea to work. Residents of this community have a right to sit and look at your idea and others before you decide on what you are doing with our Village school.
Chris Barcelo January 28, 2012 at 12:14 PM
The letter was well stated, covered all of the necessary information, and was straight forward. These are facts people and these facts reflect the state of affairs. Being presented with the information it is the only logical move. The Government does NOT have a blank paycheck and all expenses come out of us. The notion that we can have our cake and eat it too is compelling but flawed. I went ro south ocean and am heart broken about this news but facts are facts. This is what happens when the government runs education, it must also manage the extreme costs of doing so.
Elizabeth K January 28, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Thank you Mr. Houdek for telling us of "the increased opportunities for our children." I didn't know cramming them back in their Elementary was an opportunity for them. Please do not use making it into the Newsdays Top 10 for sports any reasoning. Their education shoud be priority. I'm glad this is not the plan just yet. I do understand there are economic factors. Straight talk is ok. Any idea when the next Budget workshop is?
Martha January 28, 2012 at 05:36 PM
This district is notorious for making bad decisions and for being mismanaged...in the 20 plus years I have lived here I have seen it plummet, it has now reached from what I feel is an all time low. When is the district going to address the real problem that not just Pat-Med faces but every other school district. The personnel costs are crippling our education system. As you stated in your letter...the 2% increase barely matches the increases in steps, medical, and pension costs. When is enough enough. We can no longer afford to pay the over inflated salaries and pensions that are being paid. People in the private sector have taken pay freezes, pay cuts and even lost jobs due to this poor economic state our country is in...but not teachers...why is that? Last year the district excessed 53 teachers , or should I say 53 positions, because many of these people are still employed due to leave replacements, so in actuality virtually no one was eliminated. But by excessing these positions we now have elementary classes with 29 and 30 kids in them. This even includes kindergarten. And yet every teacher and administrator received their pay increase last year. WHY IS THAT? Because they are doing such a great job? From what I understand 3 of our elementary schools or schools in need of improvement. It is time this district took a stand with the teachers union. And shame on the district for allowing it. Disgraceful, our children suffer while everyone gets a raise.
Michael Sorrentino (Editor) January 28, 2012 at 05:55 PM
The next budget workshop is Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. at South Ocean Middle School's Conference Room.
Martha January 28, 2012 at 06:05 PM
The people work 190? maybe days a year, 6 hours a day after you figure in their breaks ad preps...are not readily available for our children after school if need be. Why is it that the extra help in this district is limited to Tue and Thu mornings? There is no transportation for them, yet every afternoon there are late buses available even at the elementary level that drive home 3 kids..at what cost? What about retired employees coming back to work on per diems...does their pensions get adjusted for their working income? There is so much waste that could be cut that should before we look to take away from are kids, yet they are always the ones paying the price...this is the problem and until people take a stand nothing will change...this is where our tax dollars are going ......http://seethroughny.net/payrolls/schools/ I have heard Mr Locantore state several times that he did not take a pay increase last year, yet all of his assistant superintendents did. Their salaries alone are over a million dollars a year. What does the board plan to do about that?
Wendy Blake January 28, 2012 at 06:24 PM
The letter above does not cover all the necessary information. It in no way indicates how the district plans to put approximately 550-600 sixth graders into the 7 elementary schools. Based on the BOCES report, which I read and which uses figures from 2010, while there may be some classroom space available, it does not appear sufficient to handle the influx of additional students. The space for these classrooms would come either by having more students per class, thereby freeing up space and or by using rooms that are currently in use for other purposes, such as art rooms and ESL rooms. Does this mean that the boundary lines for the elementary schools would be redrawn, so that elementary students in one school would now have to go to another, meaning more buses? Bay Elementary does not have room to add any more students, what is the plan for children in that area? These issues have a real effect on children. And again, how the seventh and eight graders living south of Sunrise but less than a mile from Saxton get to school? What services, clubs and curriculum changes will there be for the sixth graders? These are questions that need to be answered before any school is closed. They all impact the education of Patchogue-Medford students.
Judy Pepenella January 28, 2012 at 10:12 PM
I welcome the discussion and all issues discussed here. We cannot continue on as we have in this district OR on LI. We have way too many homes being sold and/or going into foreclosure in our district. With enrollment decreasing and the projected decreases we must look at ways to keep our children in an environment to learn AND grow. I noted a few people saying they were concerned about the empty building...no one has mentioned that St. Joseph's College was interested in utilizing the school for their needs. A point about the tax cap issue. If the budget vote fails two times, the budget will revert back to last year's budget numbers. That means NO increase but it also means no chance to change things for the betterment of our children. It means we will loose programs and teachers. Is that what you want? I think not. Folks we all want best for our children and we must find the best solution to provide them with the best education for less. This is not going to be easy, but if we work together to correct our spending costs, we can then give our children more for less.
Kim January 29, 2012 at 12:25 AM
If St. Joseph's College is interested in utilizing S.Ocean Middle School, I would like to see someone from that institution step forward to state that themselves.
Patchogue January 29, 2012 at 01:41 AM
I think we need to innovate. We need to get off our butts and figure out ways. Change is difficult, but we must change.
Patchogue January 29, 2012 at 01:44 AM
I ma not too happy about the grades at the school, I must admit. I am hoping this is a first step to fixing the school district. It used to be good. Not sure what happened. This is a great community and I look forward to continued improvement. The Pat Med area is on the uptick.
Judy Pepenella January 29, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Kim, that remark was in Michael's first article and was 'said to be discussed' at the school board meeting. I welcome the idea of the college use of the property as it would benefit the local college AND the district residents.
Bunnie January 29, 2012 at 02:44 AM
I believe St Joes, was interested a few yrs back before they constructed there new building I do not believe St Joes has recently said they are interested, There is no information about a more recent interest from what I understand and that may be South Ocean but there has been NO interest by anyone for Oregon unless we havent been told that information. I also thought a study was done in 2010 that said benefits of closing South Ocean would only amount to about $500,000.
Marnie Papele January 29, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Well i could tell everyone that the study projection for enrollment is already under estimated...at last count Bay ES was at 416 students..not the 390 which was projected less then a year ago, so I have a hard time justifying school closing based on estimates that are already off the mark. There is no way you can project what the enrollment will be in 10 years. People also need to remember that Mr Houdek and Lavalle do not always have the best interest of the students or families in mind when they set their minds to something. One only needs to look back as far as last summer when they finally succeeded in "railroading" a much loved and respected principal out of not only a job but a career in education because of their own personal agenda. Their selfish actions have lead our cash strapped district into yet another unnecessary lawsuit. More money to be taken away from our children. I also would also like to hear what the district is going to do in regards to salaries. This is the biggest expense with the most room to save. In economic times such as these where people are loosing their homes and struggling to put food on their table, is it fair to keep asking the community to fund pay increase after pay increase while the kids get less and less. the only thing I have heard is what is going to be taken away from the kids...the cuts need to be taken in every area..not just at the expense of the kids..
Bunnie January 29, 2012 at 02:53 AM
I agree Kim, last I heard that was a few yrs ago and before they constructed their new building. If a new very recent interest has not been made then again this is just thoughts and not actual facts. What they said they may e interested in 3 yrs ago, or even 2 yrs ago cold be very different than today. If St joes is interested then someone from St Joes should be at a board meeting or something
Elizabeth K January 29, 2012 at 12:30 PM
Hi Judy, Renting our childrens school to st. Joseph's will bring more traffic and congestion. Had that been disscussed. Also when people look to move into an area they like to see where their kids will attend school, without a local Middle school, this will turn off more families from moving into the Village. This will be bad for our local Real estate already suffering. In the broad spectrum, This doesn't sound reasonable.
Karen Hicks January 29, 2012 at 07:32 PM
One issue I have with the board and the study thay they posted on line is that the statistics do not represent what is actually present in the buildings. The study indicates that the buildings are underused. I would like to see the vast unused space in Medford Elementary that equates to about 40% of reported wasted space. My daugher is in third grade with 29 students. The statistics reflect a class average of about 24. The problem with this is that you are averaging in modified special education classes as well as specialty classes like the dual language program. These classes are not designed to have more than 12 - 16 kids in them. These classes will never change their size so incoming students must be added to classes of 29. My son, in South Ocean has classes of 29 as well. Do the other schools in the district have small class sizes that this number will change when brought together or are their statistics manupilated also? I don't have a problem with the district making good use of the resources that we have but numbers can be manipulated to tell a story that just isn't accurate. They must really look at what is going on in the actual schools on a daily basis before making these paper changes become realities. Once these changes are made...we can never go back.
Jen Pringle January 29, 2012 at 11:27 PM
I order to save money, I feel that all teachers should take a pay cut. I know of plenty of people who work in the private sector that have gone without raises and have taken pay cuts. The teachers need to realize that they have had it all too good for too long. The kids were the brunt of the cuts this year, I think it is time for the teachers to feel it as well.
Wendy Blake January 31, 2012 at 03:58 AM
If St. Joseph's wants to use So Ocean for additional classroom space, which is what I presume they would, I am curious as to where they would expect students to park. There is barely enough parking for the teachers at SOA now. Would they pave the field and use it for parking? All that extra traffic day and night? Not so good.
Marnie Papele January 31, 2012 at 04:21 AM
http://patchogue.patch.com/blog_posts/my-community-in-my-opinion Lets not make the same mistake twice.....Lets get Ms. Rignola on the BOE!!!! Hopefully she will be running again....we need her now more then ever !!!!!
Kimberly February 08, 2012 at 03:29 PM
I just feel bad for the kids to deal with this. Not only the special need kids. Just hoping for the best for our children. Change is difficult for many children. If this occurs they should not do it in the middle of a school year. I do not like the idea bc the kids will be effected to their normal routine enviroment.
justin February 13, 2012 at 02:12 PM
You must try and leave emotions out of this discussion, the disctrict and the BOE must be creative to make sure every student has access to a quality education. So, stop reacting on emotion and be open minded to new ideas to ensure our district can provide our children with the best possible education. I find it infuriating that the people that complain about the ideas of change, have nothing to offer as an alternative. Our budget has not passed in years, please wake up and join the discussion to change our district for the positive! Enough of the negativity, look for real solutions that benifit kids!
Wendy Blake February 13, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Justin you might want to recheck your facts regarding the budget passing. There is not a single person here who does not have the best interests of the children in mind. The problem is that the letter above does not answer a number of questions and is using projections, not actual current numbers, to try to make it's case. If you the comments from some of the parents above who have children in these schools, the numbers are already much higher than projected for this year, in the report. There are problems with the idea of closing SOA or any school that must be addressed. They are real concerns not just emotion.
justin February 14, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Lets lay this out, if the district and the BOE do not put options on the table for the community we can be looking at a difficult school year 2012-2013. If 50% of the community does not vote for the budget, then the district has to adopt a 0% per the new cap. I am not for any school being closed, that being said, what are the real options??????? The High School currently has classes over 30, sections have already been eliminated per budget cuts. I have kids in the district and I do not want theirs and other childrens education hurt by years of wasteful spending and ridiculous unfunded madates, but what are the real options?
Brett Houdek February 15, 2012 at 12:48 AM
For Clarity here are the current enrollment levels versus the projected levels Barton K-5: Current: 563 Projected: 569 Bay K-5: Current: 391 Projected: 390 Canaan K-5: Current: 511 Projected: 507 Eagle K-5: Current: 587 Projected: 599 Medford K-5: Current: 576 Projected: 604 River K-5: Current: 348 Projected: 366 Tremont K-5: Current: 521 Projected: 545 Oregon 6-8: Current: 600 Projected: 622 Saxton 6-8: Current: 740 Projected: 738 So. Ocean 6-8: Current: 504 Projected: 509 High School 9-12: Current: 2616 Projected: 2703 The projections come from the Demographics Study available online.
Marnie Papele February 15, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Brett it is great that the board is looking to save and cut back...but lets take a look at the real expenses that are driving this as well as every other school district to take drastic measures.....the personnel expense I believe is over 70 % of the districts budget. What measures have been taken to address that? Last year if the teacher's union would have agreed to just a pay FREEZE it would have saved approximately 60 positions....just a freeze not a cut would have kept 60 classrooms up and running. That is the real problem in education today...not just pat-med. When is the elephant in the corner of the room going to be acknowledged? There are over 125 employees that make over 100k a year in this district...but lets keep looking to take from our kids and their educational options. Because cramming 1100 plus kids in a school is a good thing? Abandoned buildings are good? Rezoning a district so children have to move to a different school is good? More time spent on a bus driving across town is good? Feeding kids lunch and hour after they arrive in school is good? If this is such a great plan why is it that it is just you and Mr Lavalle that are in favor of it? I would think if it was so great that all boe members would be in favor. The savings do not out weight the cost to our kids.
Marnie Papele February 15, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Sorry correction....I was just informed by someone that my count is off....there are over 300 people who make over 100k a year in Pat-Med school district.......But we are trying to close down 2 schools...REALLY????

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