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.
William Lavelle & Brett Houdek
Patchogue Medford Board of Education
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