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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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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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