School Board Hears Overcrowding Complaints

Huntington trustees are told classes are too big amid demands to reopen Abrams.

It was all about the numbers at Monday night's meeting of the Huntington Board of Education: test scores, budgets, class size and even the number of  open schools.

On the agenda were reports from Western Suffolk BOCES on how it will help guide the search to find a replacement for retiring Superintendent John J. Finello; a detailed explanation from Dr. Kenneth A. Card on why Huntington High School was placed on a state "needs improvement" list.  But above all, what brought many members of the audience to the lectern was the size of classes and the related issue of the board's decision this summer to close Jack Abrams School.

The overcrowding issue arose first with a complaint by a parent who said that Flower Hill students had no space to receive extra instruction and that safety might be an issue because an emergency drill held in the gym might well push it past capacity.  Later, when  Dr. Joseph Giani, assistant superintendent, presented a report on on classroom sizes, complaints flowed again.

Giani's figures showed several classes at 30 or more students.

School, grade, section Average Jefferson, third grade, three sections 30 Southdown kindergarten, three sections 31 Flower Hill, kindergarten, three sections 32 Washington, third grade, three sections 31

Trustee Emily Rogan then asked questions on the topic that seemed to preoccupy many in the audience.

"We are going to be entering budget season and we are going to need to decide whether we're sticking to our guidelines of 30 students," Rogan said. "What does that mean for our current enrollment? Are we satifisfied with the current state? How can we say this is good educational decision-making if there are 32 children in the kindergarten classes?"

After board president William Dwyer asked Giani about the cyclical nature of enrollments, trustee Christine Bene asked, "Where are we going with this?" which drew applause from large numbers of people in the audience.

After some further discussion about the numbers and the impact of 30 students in a classroom, trustee Kim Brown said the board after the board had closed down Jack Abrams school this summer. "We need to open up Jack Abrams again" which drew louder applause."Until you open Jack Abrams, you're not going to get anything. That's the reality. The community isn't going to pass anything until we open Abrams."

During the discussion, Dwyer announced he would "no longer support any plan to move back just one part of the district into the school. I'm fully in favor of making it a sixth-grade center."

This summer, in response to fears about crime in the neighborhood, the board had first voted to move younger students out and turn the school into a center for sixth graders. Not long after, following some further violence in neighboring blocks, the board changed its mind, closed Abrams to students and dispersed them to other schools.

One  issue unresolved is what to do about reports and efforts by the long-range planning facility committee, formed in June to consider school building needs but whose work has been delayed by the changing Abrams situation.

That group aside, the audience pleaded with the board to reconsider once again. One teacher said, "I beg you not to wait too long. We've never had more than 24 and now the kids have a lot more needs. Where do we find the extra time to do progress monitoring?" which was a topic of Card's explanation earlier in the evening on how the schools would improve their rankings. "Class size is something you have to address or we're going to be here every year," she said.

John Fay November 17, 2010 at 01:39 PM
I support Kim Brown with reopening Jack Abrams. The School Board should consider using a small portion of the $2,000,000.00 they have in reserves / excess funds, that they were going to use to expand the building at the 'Woodhull' school, and use it to install outside security cameras on the Jack Abrams building and higher a 24/7 NIGHT time security guard to monitor them. Spending no more than $15K to $20K (a one-time cost) on security camera equipment and not much more a year for a security guard to monitor it, is a lot cheaper then forking over $2,000,000.00 to expand a school when the Huntington School District has a perfectly good school (Jack Abrams). Any monies left over from the $2,000,000.00 should be used towards the education of the children, who are our future (e.g. use $ for computers, better science equipment, music & art programs, etc.). In addition, Suffolk County needs to step it up around Jack Abrams, especially during the day, and add more police presence around the school. I recommend they set-up an annex right at the school. The site of police officers coming in and out of the building and their known presence would help discourage the gangs and criminals from coming to the area. I’m sure the School District could accommodate office space for the police officers whose beat is in Huntington Station. Or, the Suffolk Police could set-up a mobile unit outside the school.
Joe Obermaier November 17, 2010 at 02:07 PM
If you reopen 'Jack Abrams' as a sixth grade center as originally planned, then you still need to provide more space at Woodhull for all the 4th adn 5th graders in the district. You could, I suppose, keep spending money on portable classrooms as a recurring expense year after year. Or you could reopen Jack Abrams as it was (4th, 5th and 6th for half the district), and not spend the money - but unless you do that, more space is needed at Woodhull. Or we could keep arguing about this, pitting one neighborhood against another, ratcheting up the name-calling and making prognostications about what the community would and would not support (when in reality we have no idea, and do you really want to put that to the test?), and waste away another school year while there are so many other serious issues that are being ignored.
Adam Spector November 17, 2010 at 02:21 PM
What was clear to me at the meeting is that if the current stalemate continues, our 4 primary schools will likely join the state's "Needs Improvement" list after next year. The overcrowding that exists and the comprimised education our young children are getting can be directly attributed to the closure of Jack Abrams. I am sensitive to the safetly concerns of some parents, but as Kim Brown indicated, the community will NOT approve ANY capital expenditures (new money or old) until the school is reopened. To Joe's point, Woodhull needs space if it stays as is or houses 4/5 with 6th at Abrams. The modulars are an effective (short term) solution. By having the board elect to accept one of the 2 LTFPC options that includes Abrams, I feel capital for permanent classrooms would be quickly approved allowing for use before the end of the modulars' projected stay. Therefore the BOE and administration NEED to figure out how to use Abrams in September 2011, while addressing the concerns of families that believe it should remain closed. This is not an easy task, but is necessary. Rich McGrath's concern that opening Abrams would result in the flight of the middle class seems to be off-point. I believe continuing to educate in this environment will cause middle class families with young children to look elsewhere for education. That would be the real shame. The use of Abrams should be about education, not a school board trying to insert itself into local politics.
Jim November 17, 2010 at 03:09 PM
Adam - While your thinking is well intentioned - it does not strike at the heart of the problem. For ten years we have faced the same thinking and same problem. The Town has effectively dumped social, economic and tax issues on School District 3. Absent a correction of the clustering of Section 8 housing, clustering of low income housing, dumping social wlefare programs on SD 3 at the cost of SD3, we will fail. Of course, we need to re open Jack Abrams but we need to do so in a manner that gurantees we can use it again and kids are safe. Before we re open a school that was closed becuase of saftey fears, lets fix the problem. The Town needs to foot the bill for programs and intiatives dumped into SD 3. The town also needs to break up the clusters so that they are not a social and tax problem for SD 3. Only then can actually address the secodnary issues of space, teaching etc. Absent corrective action on the source of the probelms we will spend another decade with nothing accomplished.
Jim November 17, 2010 at 05:27 PM
HS resident THe problem is the Town is out of control - if they are willing to de cluster Huntington SD 3 then I'd be happy to see other intiatives. But NO! They have consistently dumpedon SD 3
Jim November 17, 2010 at 05:56 PM
HS resident Review the tax rolls and the disaster the Town Board has created. Time and time again further dminishing the tax base. Highview is one example of the tax drain - not to single out HIghview there are so many others to add to the equation! Help us wake up Town Hall - I hope you are sincere and join the frustrations and do not simply want to be another town hall hack!
marina obermaier November 17, 2010 at 08:34 PM
You can't deny it took closing JAI to get the attention of our Town, Police and electeds. Decades of failed and stagnating revitalization efforts did nothing to address the problems in Huntington Station until our BOE closed JAI. We're seeing the beginnings of plans to address crime, code enforcement gaps, and other issues plaguing Huntington Station for decades. It will take more than a year to effect change. I get the anger over the closure of JAI. Reopening JAI as soon as 9/2011, however, before nascent efforts to address the problems in HS can bear fruit, would not only be dangerous (IMO), but costly. I fear what reform momentum exists may dissipate once JAI reopens. We can't risk waiting another 20 years for the revitalization tipping point to return. As for overcrowding, my kids are in the Dual Language program where classes have been in the 26-27 range annually. Their academic performance has not been negatively impacted, maybe because they've had the benefit of an Aide. I've also heard reports from parents in the same "overcrowded" class - opposite subjective impressions in fact! I've also heard that with kids being pulled out for specials and supports, classes don't have all students present for more than a couple of hours each day? Not to minimize individual impacts of overcrowding, but maybe having Aides in the lager classes could be one option to address overcrowding until capital improvements are implemented, and meaningful change takes root?
Jim November 17, 2010 at 09:56 PM
Part of the reason may be business failure BUT A LARGER REASON is that PEtrone and the other council place a disproportionate burden on SD 3 relative to low income housing. Business failure is a fraction of that reduction. It would be dishonest to ignroe that Petrone after getting forced by HUD to accept low income housing screwed SD 3 and SD 13 by clustering the housing.
Adam Spector November 17, 2010 at 10:00 PM
Marina - I appreciate your comments, however, using a school as leverage to improve conditions in Huntington Station is not in the perview of the Board of Ed. The efforts of the many residents that have resulted in the attention of the town and SCPD seems to me to be a more appropriate strategy. It can be debated exactly what effect closing Abrams had on the town and SCPD without any real substantiation for either arguement. What cannot be debated is that Flower Hill Kindergarten classes AVERAGE 32 students. These precious foundation years are not recoverable for those students. The impact of overcrowding will be a years long experience, as will the turnaround of Huntington Station. If you doubt what I am saying, find a teacher you have a good relationship with and ask them in confidence what they think. Many will not go on the record, but my sampling has been rather consistent.
marina obermaier November 18, 2010 at 02:08 AM
You're right Adam, it's everyone BUT the BOE's responsibility to improve conditions in Huntington Station. Ascribing to our BOE the motive of closing JAI as leverage to improve conditions in HS is cynical, not my implication at all. Our BOE overtly, and rightly IMO, took that decision citing safety concerns. Unintended happy accident, then. Fact is, while JAI was open nothing was done. Now that it's closed, we have a burgeonong movement to improve conditions in HS. We we shouldn't squander that momentum. Releasing capital improvement funds will address overcrowding, but you're holding funds hostage - tying them to an artificial deadline for the reopening of JAI. Your statement "the BOE and administration NEED to figure out how to use Abrams in September 2011" is what I disagree with. The BOE trustees are likely to accept one of the 2 LTFPC options that includes Abrams. From where I sit, though, significant safety initiatives need to be implemented, demonstrated to be effective and long-term, before families like mine will allow our children to attend. Not likely to happen by September. Back to Joe's point about pitting neighborhoods against each other. How about we agree that JAI, in some form, needs to be in the LTF mix. Release the funds for capital improvements to alleviate overcrowding in the short term while allowing sufficient time for the issues leading to JAI's closure to be addressed. Reopen JAI only once safety metrics are met.
Susan November 19, 2010 at 02:34 AM
Marina, you're so right. Here's hoping that our entire district is not held hostage by Kim Brown, Adam & Co much longer. All the children are going to continue to be crowded until building is allowed to go forward at our other schools that were crowded BEFORE JAI was even closed. This building should go on while the JAI neighborhood is continued to be addressed. I would not allow my children to attend any school in such a violent neighborhood. Countless stories from families that have chosen to attend private school solely because they will not allow their children to attend a school in a neighborhood with a crime rate not only substantially higher than anywhere else in our district but now ranked with Brentwood, Central Islip and Hempstead! Things have to change....and just re-opening a school won't make any impact on making the area safer. To the contrary as Paul pointed out in his post, we than have to worry about costs of security to try to keep the additional people bused safe from 9-3. I just met my cousin's girlfriend last week. When she found out where I lived she said that she had lived in Huntington, but had moved to Oyster Bay when her son was to attend Huntington Intermediate. That was 3 years ago! That speaks volumes. People need to be given reason to come back to Huntington....not run. The most precious thing that any parent has is their children. Lets get on track with our schools and start to build the space that is needed even when we open JAI!
David Livingston May 13, 2011 at 10:53 AM
A young boy in the Huntington Public School District sent out 28 birthday invitations on the class list given to his parents by the teacher. 14 out of the 28 came back, "undeliverable address unknown". Now, if parents can figure out that the HUFSD is being milked by people not even in the district, and probably not even in the country legally, then why can't the administration? Don't tell me the HUFSD hasn't gotten "undeliverable address unknown" returns in piles, BUT REFUSES TO ACT ON IT. The schools, parents and teachers only have the administrators to blame.
kate May 13, 2011 at 12:10 PM
Thumbs up David ! You are 100% percent correct. If the district will get a very close handle on who is coming into our schools, they will find out very quickly that a number, large one I might add, are living in illegal housing, or in some cases, not a US citizen. Why does a Real Estate agent get fined for renting out an illegal apt., but LIPA can put 2, 3 or 4 meters on a house w/out any documentation that the home is a legal 2 family????? The Town needs to stop giving out ANY Legal Accessary or Legal 2 Family permits going forward. The increase in a legal 2 home's taxes are so little, but if you house 2.3 or 4 kids in that legal 2, add up how much that is costing us the REAL tax payers and how much of a burden it puts on our district ! I feel every child deserves a fair education, but every landlord that takes in all this money monthly from their rent roll should have to pay a chunk of it to school taxes if children are being housed in their properties ! Town of Huntington needs to put a force in place that can start on one side of town and go to the other and clean up these illegal apartments....and I do beleive they know where most of them are :) Until we clean up town hall, we are beating a dead horse...Frank Patrone has worn out his welcome as well as a couple of others ......


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