A number of issues were addressed at Monday night's Huntington Union Free School District's Board of Education meeting held at J. Taylor Finley Middle School, but Tuesday's referendum vote and the overcrowding of Huntington's schools drew the most attention from the Board of Education and the residents on hand.
"When this referendum was first put up the situation in our district was radically different," said Huntington Station parent Rebecca Sanin, who organized a rally before the Board of Education meeting which saw the doors to Jack Abrams Intermediate School close to the district's students. "Now, the most urgent means seem to be at the primary level and we're voting on something not recognizing the entire district and looking at the needs of the entire district."
Board of Education trustee Emily Rogan said she did not completely disagree with Sanin and others who oppose the referendum vote.
"It's not that I don't think it will be effective, it's that the referendum was voted on to release those funds before other buildings in the district were affected by pushing back a grade level," Rogan said. "I'm just concerned about why we're addressing the needs of one school, but we still have four other schools that I'm very worried about for this school year."
The referendum is asking residents to approve the release of $2 million from the district's Building Improvement Fund for renovations, repairs and the construction of an addition at Woodhull Intermediate School. The additions to Woodhull would include at least four permanent classrooms and two bathrooms. According to the information released at Monday's meeting by Joseph Giani, Huntington's Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and General Administration, Woodhull's class size projection ranges between 28-30 students.
"We are going to need more space at Woodhull," said Bill Dwyer, president of the Board of Education. "… I believe it still makes sense."
The overcrowding of Huntington's schools was an issue before the closing of Abrams, but with one less school, the concern is even greater. However, residents who came to Monday's meeting spoke out time and time again at the public commentary session that they were voting no at Tuesday's referendum vote, citing "fiscal responsibility" and the closing of Abrams as their reasons.
"Tomorrow I will vote no," Sanin said. "… Basically, when you spend taxpayers' money you have to do it based on two things: one, an analysis of where the most urgent needs lie, and two, based on what the situation is in our district."
Sanin once again brought up Abrams and how its closing has affected the entire district. "We have a building that's lying vacant that we could be using for space and we have primary schools that now are going to have kindergarten classes with more than 30 kids in a class," Sanin said. "That is really ineffective when it comes to producing positive child outcomes. We need to stop. We need to come up with a long-term plan. … There are other ways to look at this situation and develop other solutions."
The amount of "no" voters at Monday's meeting suggests that the referendum might have more trouble passing than most expected.
"We'd come back and discuss it as a board," said Dwyer of the possibility that the referendum does not pass. "We've got $2 million still sitting in the Capital Reserve Fund that can be used on our building however we see fit."
Dwyer added, "The other issue that you have is doing work on individual facilities. Just to get in and start, there are more costs associated, whereas the first classroom of the building costs a lot more than the second, third, and fourth. Many people are proposing that we have to add on to all four primary schools [Flower Hill, Washington, Southdown, and Jefferson], it costs a lot more to do it that way – doing a little bit of work on a lot of different sites."
The issue over the closing of Abrams coupled with the issue of overcrowding in the district caused Monday's meeting to become very passionate and in some instances, heated. Many residents voiced their discontent with the Board of Education. One resident went as far as to tell the members of the board, "You don't care." That clearly hurt several of the board members, and Dwyer addressed it the best he could.
"We need to figure out a way to respectfully disagree with each other," he said. "The decorum in these meetings has been going downhill and I think it reflects poorly on everybody. I think we all need to figure out a way to voice our differences in opinion without personal attacks, without interrupting people. As a community, I think it reflects very poorly on us."