As a community of fiscally responsible taxpayers, we have to make sure we have factual information about potential capital projects being discussed for our schools. We also have to understand the true costs of any potential projects. While the potential cost of items currently being considered totals $25 million, as taxpayers we need to know what that will cost us additionally on an annual basis. It will only be $200 a year for the average Manhasset homeowner; that is less than most people’s monthly cable and cell phone bills.
The potential capital improvements and modernizations at the three schools were studied by a committee of 16 volunteers, including me, who represent the range of demographics within our town: empty nesters who have adult children who went through the school system; young parents with children just entering the school system; parents with children who are on their way out of the system; and parents who went through the school system themselves and who are enjoying the pleasure of watching their children benefit from the Manhasset School System the same way they did – like me.
Last spring we combed through all three buildings over six weeks working with staff and Administration. In light of future programmatic needs and the challenges presented by space constraints due to high enrollment, we considered things ranging from improvement of academic spaces, better use of the facilities via smarter space planning, growing some art and music spaces based upon the amount of students enrolled in these programs, and planning for the future maintenance of athletic facilities, to name some of the top ones. We discussed specific challenges that spaces posed and considered several options to address them. One option was always to ‘do nothing’ if the committee thought the challenge was of least importance.
In the end, each of the members of the group ranked all of the potential solutions to all of the challenges. The statistical results were presented to the group. We repeated the exercise while considering costs. Remember, doing nothing was always an option for each item. In June, we presented the results to the Board of Education which are on the District website. Projects found most important by this independent group totaled just over $27 million. The Board of Education is considering putting forth a bond in early December; the size and scope of the bond is currently being discussed with the community and will be finalized in early October.
Our group did not try to project the next baby boom and consider building new facilities to suit that. Because the District has live birth data and nursery school enrollment, it can project with a reasonable amount of accuracy, student population through 2020. Student population is projected to continue to grow, although at a slower rate than over the last 5 years; the projections are on the District website. Still, student enrollment is at historically very high levels for what Manhasset is used to with over 3300 students K-12, or an average of 255 per grade.
Our group did not consider split sessions because there are real facilities needs District wide, and split sessions will not address those issues. Additionally, split sessions present potential increased costs relating to busing, personnel, and logistics, and they would inconvenience to the rest of the community as the District’s facilities are used for extra-curricular and outside activities immediately following the last bell.
Over the last 9 years, our current administration under Charles Cardillo has very responsibly brought our facilities to a point where they are in good working order, generally suitable and safe for students. Boilers, roofs, bathrooms, locker rooms and fields (to name only a few) have been renovated or replaced where previously they had been long ignored. As a community of fiscally responsible taxpayers, let’s learn from mistakes of the recent past. We need to continue to work consistently to improve our school facilities and keep them up to par. We do the same in our homes.
It is important to forge forward with continued improvement of the facilities to ensure they meet the needs of our students, the instructors and the programs. The music facilities are too small and are unsuitable for the numbers of students in the music program which earns state awards and produces all state musicians. Similarly, the arts facilities are inadequate for the art program and our high performing AP art students. The same can be said about science program. One thing we do not think about either: the classrooms that met students’ needs in my day are not necessarily equipped to meet students’ needs today. Education had shifted to more collaborative group instruction today and students move around the rooms far more than they used to, particularly in science. We have to support the instructors and their programs where we have our greatest successes.
So have some faith in the Board of Education, the Administration under Charlie Cardillo and the sixteen community members who spent six weeks of their own personal time studying this. The projects being considered are important for our schools and our community and at $200 per year certainly can be afforded by all of the taxpayers in our town.