Parents of students attending Mills Pond Elementary protest last Tuesday, Dec. 13. Photo by Monica Gleberman
December 21, 2011 | 06:17 PMSmithtown's Citizens Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing Thursday voted unofficially to close Nesconset Elementary School next school year and abandon consideration of moving to the Princeton Plan.
The unofficial vote took place at the CAC's regularly scheduled meeting Dec. 15, with 23 of the 29 voting members casting their ballots.
The CAC was formed to determine which, if any, school should close due to declining enrollment and an anticipated budget gap for the 2012-13 school year. The committee had considered each of the district's nine elementary schools and narrowed it down to Nesconset Elementary and Mills Pond Elementary.
Last month the committee began considering moving to the Princeton Plan, which would group students in schools based on grade, not neighborhood. School officials said students in grades K to two would be grouped together and students in grades three to five would attend school together. Officials had said the district could save $259,635 the first year of the plan and $592,744 each following year.
In addition to closing Nesconset and nixing a move to the Princeton Plan, CAC members voted in favor of renting a vacant elementary school should its students be moved to another building and possibly relocating central offices from the New York Avenue administration building.
The CAC will take an official vote early next month and present a recommendation to the Board of Education, which will ultimately make the decision of which school to close.
The CAC will meet next on Jan. 5 at 7 pm at the New York Avenue administration building in Room 222A.
Jennifer Bradshaw, the district's director of curriculum and co-chair of the CAC, said the vote against the Princeton Plan is not surprising. "The general sense of the committee has been pretty strongly against the K to two, three to five change … My impression from the start has been that they don't like the model," she said.
As for voting preliminarily to close Nesconset, Bradshaw said committee members have expressed their feelings from the beginning. "The committee has been leaning toward closing Nesconset for some time now. I think that one of the primary considerations is that Mills Pond has more classrooms and if we have a future growth, Mills Pond would be able to accommodate that."
But John Nolan, district director of technology and the other CAC co-chair, said he wasn't so sure the district could hang its hat on the results of the initial vote.
"It's incomplete and nonbinding. I can't say anything is 100 percent right now. I can say that the numbers today are pretty conclusive and ultimately we are making a recommendation to the Board of Education, but ultimately it will be up to the Board of Education to make a final decision," he said.
Cindy Heimerle, who is a CAC voting member representing Smithtown's Special Education Parent Teacher Association, said the first vote results were what she expected. "Based on the information we have been given, it affects the fewest number of children by closing Nesconset as opposed to Mills Pond. The children can move more as a group," Heimerle said.
She said she expects parents from Nesconset might speak out against the committee. "They were active last year when it was one of the schools on the chopping block … so I am sure we will hear from them."
Heimerle said she thinks the Princeton Plan was voted down because the committee needed more information. "I think you would need a separate committee just to look at the Princeton Plan, if we were serious. We would have to pair all the schools and really look at the savings … there just wasn't enough time to accurately look at it."
Kate Kellard Prigg, a parent of a Mills Pond child, said regardless of which school closes, no one wins. "Children are going to be dislocated no matter what happens. Half of Mills Pond is going to be moved to St. James Elementary. So I think everybody is going to be feeling the displacement. So, I am not standing here cheering, this is going to be a tough one for all of us."
Kellard Prigg is one of about 20 Mills Pond parents who protested outside the New York Avenue administration building last Tuesday, Dec. 13, before the Board of Education meeting, calling for the district to keep Mills Pond open.
Noelle Ciminiello, a Mills Pond parent, protested last week, and said at that time that she was protesting for every parent in the district. "It's not just about keeping Mills Pond open, it's about keeping our schools open and doing the right things with our tax dollars," she said.
Richard Prigg protested against the district, saying its direction has led the schools into financial ruin. "The management of the district has been appallingly bad in the execution of their duties. We know about the late filing of the state funding that has cost us over $3 million, plus the $10 million in overpayment that we are now going to have to pay back, now that is just incompetence," he said.
Board of Education President Gladys Waldron said the comments from parents are understandable, but the district has gone about the closing methodically. "I understand some of the things that people will say because they are scared that it was going to be their school closing, but to respond we're doing it the right way instead of last year with the Board of Education just deciding which schools to close," she said in a phone interview. "Instead we have a committee doing the research. I believe it's the right way to do it."
Superintendent Edward Ehmann said regardless of the decision, the district won't be able to make everyone happy. "We expect the parents to be upset when there is a chance there will be a school to close," he said in a phone interview. "That is part of the emotional attachment that parents have grown towards their schools. It's complimentary to the school that they are so passionate about it."
Ehmann said he is confident that if a change is made, parents will adapt and be just as passionate about their new school. But in the meantime, the district is prepared to handle residents' opinions. "The protest, the criticism, the frustration that parents feel is all understandable, predictable, and we'll just respond as we go through the process," Ehmann said.