Board Notes - North Shore Board of Education Meeting, 9.1.16
SCHOOL DISTRICT LIKELY TO SEEK VOTER APPROVAL FOR BOND TO FUND FACILITIES AND INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS IN DECEMBER 2017
September 8, 2016 -- At last Thursday’s public meeting, Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick recommended to the School Board that it put before voters in December 2017 a bond proposal to fund infrastructure improvements and renovations to buildings that would help support instruction - in particular upgrades that would enable the district to create “21st Century Classrooms.” He cited an upcoming drop in debt service costs and his retirement at the end of this school year, as well as the importance of maintaining and upgrading district facilities as the nature of instruction changes, as reasons for this being the appropriate time to begin the year-long process of identifying district needs and deciding what projects ultimately will be included in the proposal.
Explaining that “under the tax levy limit law, districts are penalized if their debt goes down,” the Superintendent said that debt service payments will begin declining significantly in 2019-2020. He also said that it was an undertaking that he thought a new superintendent should not have to deal with at the start of his tenure, and therefore recommended that, except for the community vote on December 5, 2017, the process be completed by the end of June.
As for the process and timeline, he said that he would ask Assistant Superintendent Olivia Buatsi and Grounds and Facilities Director John Hall, working with the directors of Arts and Athletics, to identify infrastructure needs while Assistant Superintendent Robert Cheblicki, working with subject area directors, will research what other districts have been doing with regard to “21st Century Learning Spaces” and what this district needs to do to “keep up” especially with regard to “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math education).
In October, a bond steering committee, made up of Dr. Melnick, Mr. Cheblicki, Ms. Buatsi, District Architects, three school board members, two parent representatives from each building, and at the suggestion of Board President Toni Labatte - two community members, will research costs and get estimates - a process he said he believed could be completed by February.
This winter, a focus group made up of residents would consider the projects, participate in “walk throughs” of the district’s buildings, and offer feedback and make recommendations.
During March and April, Dr. Melnick continued, the board would actually finalize the proposal and later in the spring there would be a “very intensive community education program.”
Trustee Sara Jones expressed support for the Superintendent’s recommendation saying that she believed that proactive maintenance and improvements to infrastructure protected taxpayers. She added that “wellness” components that would promote student health and fitness ought to be taken into consideration when looking at potential projects.
With regard to the 21st Century Classrooms, Trustee Marianne Russo suggested that perhaps the Viking Foundation could play a role in funding some of the upgrades, as she said had been done in the Bronxville School District. Dr. Melnick said that as far as “brick and mortar” aspects of the projects were concerned, that would be funded by the bond, while the Viking Foundation’s role could be providing funds for supplies and instructional materials.
Trustee Russo continued that she would like the projects at the high school to enhance the campus’ overall atmosphere.
“How do we make a school a place where kids want to be - a friendlier environment.” she said. “This is what we need to do to keep our kids in school and to keep them engaged and not doing drugs.
Trustee Russo emphasized that it is especially important to show that the projects are necessary - “that we are not doing this to increase debt service and keep the budget at a certain level.”
Trustee Herman Berliner agreed. “The justification is what can we do to enhance the quality of a North Shore education and how do we wisely invest our money to make that happen.
He said that the Bond proposal should include projects “that allow us to move the district forward.”
Focusing on the sciences, he asked rhetorically if the district is where it should be with regard to numbers of students becoming Intel Semi-finalists. “I don’t think we are,” he said. “Do we have the kind of facilities to make that happen? We don’t.”
The last infrastructure and facilities bond was passed in December 2013, with community members voting overwhelmingly in support of the $19.6 million proposal.
RESIDENT SEEKS BUSING WAIVER CITING SAFETY ISSUES; TRUSTEE REQUESTS REVISITING MILEAGE REQUIREMENTS FOR TRANSPORTATION
During "Old Business," Trustee Marianne Russo recommended that the board revisit the issue of reducing the mileage requirements for receiving bus transportation to school. The suggestion came following a Sea Cliff resident's appeal to the Board to grant a waiver to allow his son to receive busing to the Middle School. Currently, k-6 students living more than three quarters of a mile and 7-12 students living more than 1.5 miles from school are entitled to busing.
The parent said, according to district measurements, that he lives 100 feet closer to the Middle School than is required in order to receive busing, and that because of hazards on the route to school he had requested a “Child Safety Zone” waiver, a New York State Department of Education regulation that allows districts to grant transportation to students whose walk to school is especially dangerous. In this district, students in grades 7-12 grades must live at least 1.5 miles from school in order to receive busing.
The parent expressed frustration with the district in its handling of his request, and said that is why he decided to bring it to the Board. He explained that every other resident in his cul d sac is entitled to transportation and that, according to a neighbor, the previous owner of the house had received such a waiver. He said his child’s walk up a very long hill without a sidewalk, that is especially hazardous in inclimate weather, as well as the blind turns on other parts of the route without a sidewalk, qualified his child for the waiver under New York State Department of Education regulations. The parent said that state regulations require that at least 12 “points” be satisfied for the route to receive the designation. He said he calculated that the route garnered 22 points.
A few minutes later, Trustee Russo said that she would like to see the board re-examine the issue of reducing the mileage requirements for receiving busing. Former Trustee Michael Nightingale, she continued, had raised the issue and asked for costs and other information a couple of years ago, but new members had come on the board since then, and that it deserved another look. Not only is there an issue with the disparity mileage limitations for 6th and 7th grader who attend the same school, she said, but also there are more households with two parents working than in the past when the current policy was adopted. As a result it is more difficult for more and more parents to drop their children off at school.
Any change to distance requirements for transportation must be approved by residents in a referendum.
BACK TO WEEKLY
OTHER STORIES FROM 9.1.16 BOE MEETING
MULCH REPLACEMENT TO BE COMPLETED THIS FALL AND WINTER
In response to a question from a community member regarding progress on the removal of the rubber mulch at the three elementary school playgrounds, Dr. Melnick stated that he expected that the replacement of the material with wood chips would be completed some time later this fall and winter. Sea Cliff School is expected to be completed by the end of November; Glen Head School, the end of December; and Glenwood Landing School in mid-January. The total cost will be $500,000
CONCERNS ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL SCHEDULING
A parent expressed concerns that the high school was scheduling 10th grade core subject area classes to meet more than five periods a week greatly diminishing opportunities for students to take electives. He noted that in a six-day cycle, the 10th grade AP World History Classes meets for eight periods, the 10th grade Algebra 2/Trigonometry classes nine periods and 10th grade English classes, seven periods. He said that he believes high school should provide students with opportunities to explore different areas of study and possible interests, and that the doubling up on time spent in these three core subject classes greatly limits those opportunities. In one particular case, he said that a student he knows of is not able to take the 10th grade science research class even though she had begun the program as a freshman. He said that as a high school teacher for more than 25 years he was not familiar with any other districts that had done this type of scheduling and asked how and why the district had adopted it. Dr. Melnick replied that the decision was made at the building level, with the input of department chairs and teachers. He suggested that the parent arrange to meet with principal to discuss his concerns.
Trustee Marianne Russo said that increasing class time by 50% in the Regents level Algebra/Trig class was made at the suggestion of the High School’s Shared Decision Making Committee after many students scored poorly on the regents exam a few years back. At North Shore she continued, students are accelerated by a year in mathematics, and therefore in need of the extra support.
SHOULD STUDENT ATHLETES WHO MISS PRACTICE DUE TO ACADEMIC TRIPS BE EXPELLED FROM SPORTS TEAMS?
There was some disagreement among board members over whether they had in fact given their approval this past June to an Athletics Department Policy that mandates the dismissal of student-athletes from sports teams if they have three unexcused absences from practices or games and in particular what ought to be considered an "excused" absence. In response to questions from a community member, Board President Toni Labatte replied that the policy is not a Board policy, but rather an Athletics Department policy and that both the Athletics Policy Committee and Athletics Advisory Committee supported the policy, but did concede the Board had ultimate authority to review and even overturn it. The community member said he thought that there was still no clear definition of what constituted an unexcused absence and that at a past Board meeting it was stated that the Athletics Policy Review Committee was going to continue to work on that language. Dr. Melnick replied that the two committees had sent reports to the Board in June clarifying the policy. At the June meeting, Trustee Joanna Commander, who serves on the two committees, said that they could only agree on “personal illness” and “a death in the family” as constituting an excused absence. The resident asked if an academic school sponsored trip constituted a legal absence. Trustee Commander replied that it would be an unexcused absence. When the resident asked if an athlete’s participation on a Foreign Language Department cultural exchange trip to France, Italy, or Spain would be considered an excused absence or an unexcused absence, Trustee Commander again said that it would be an unexcused absence.
“And that’s agreeable to the board?” the resident asked. “Yes, that’s agreeable to the board,” replied Dr. Melnick. “They reviewed the policy.”
The resident said that he had been at the meeting several months ago when students who had gone on those trips presented to the Board and many of them had said it was the most enriching educational experience of their lives.
“It’s not a policy of the Board,” replied Ms. Labatte. “It’s an Athletics Department Policy.”
The Board President continued that there were “compelling arguments made” as to why this policy should stay in place. She said that she was “troubled by the policy as well,” but “was convinced by the Athletic community and students and coaches about how this policy needed to stay as it was to allow the athletic department the ability to do its job.”
“I’m not sure it was a closed issue,” Trustee Sara Jones said.
“Yes - I don’t think we decided anything definitive on this,” agreed Trustee Dr. Herman Berliner, who added that he agreed with the resident on the issue of the foreign exchange trips. “In this economy it is our mission to develop global citizens,” he said.
Dr. Melnick said that the board had agreed to the policy at the June meeting and suggested that members take a look at the minutes. He said that that should be done before re-opening the issue but that was something they could do if they decided to.
Later, during Old Business, Trustee Jones said that some board members were under the impression that the issue was unresolved and that "at a minimum the board should revisit what was done."
(Click here for northwordnews article on the June 16 Board of Education Meeting; click here for link to video of the June 16 meeting; click here for minutes of the June 16 meeting.)