It was a contentious meeting full of personal attacks and the denial of personal attacks at Massapequa High School April 24, as the district’s school board convened to decide once and for all whether or not to move sixth-graders into middle school.
After three hours of debating, the board voted 3-2 against the move; Massapequa’s sixth-graders will remain spread throughout the district’s six elementary schools.
Led by the Board, including president Gary Bennett (who voted against the move), the meeting began with a presentation by Massapequa School District Superintendent Lucille Iconis. The superintendent said a task force of 30 people — which included parents, teachers, administrators, community members and business leaders — decided to recommend moving sixth-graders into Berner Middle School as a way to offer a wider range of educational opportunities.
“The task force came to the unanimous decision to move the sixth grade into middle school,” said Iconis. “We want to provide the greatest advantages to our children. And this task force belives moving sixth graders to middle school would open a vast new world of learning for students. The staff at Berner is more than capable of helping students transition. It’s all about the human connection. We do it and we do it well.”
To illustrate the cost of moving students to middle schools, Iconis yielded the floor to deputy superintendent Alan Adcock. He told the crowd that construction to expand Berner would amount to $6.2 million; adding four additional buses for transportation would cost approximately $302,000; while technology for the new middle schoolers would cost $350,000.
For the taxpayers, Adcock said each household per year would pay $4.31 for construction, $7.58 for transportation and $9.07 for technology — for a grand total of $20.96 per year, per household.
Iconis made clear that no elementary schools in Massapequa would close.
After Iconis’ presentation, which examined the instructional advantages, financial implications, social and emotional impact and the impact on the area’s elementary schools, the public had time to make comments. The residents expressed concerns about how sixth-graders would fare as the youngest class in a school, how bullying might increase and also about how much the move would cost the taxpayer.
But residents expressed the heartiest concerns about how the School Board interacted with one another, the public and the superintendent.
One resident said she was “fed up with the board’s squabbling,” and that they seemed to “forget that any decision must be made with the best interest of the children in mind.”
School Board president Gary Bennett countered that it has always been about the children, and that while he embraced the idea of the restructuring initially, he ultimately decided to vote against the move because he did not feel the negatives aspects were appropriately addressed.
“When you describe a rose bush, you have to also describe the thorns,” said Bennett. “And while I respect the superintendent and understand her passion for this, I do not feel that the move is necessary.”
A major contention among the “no” voters was the issue of declining enrollment in the district, especially in the elementary schools. Board member Timothy Taylor noted that pulling the sixth grade class out of the elementary schools would force the eventual closure of not one, but two elementary schools.
“The elementary schools are not operating at capacity and for those schools to lose 25-percent of students would absolutely force the closure of two schools,” said Taylor.
Another “no” voter on the board, Joseph LaBella, said his vote against restructuring stemmed from the public comments he heard during the forums.
“I kept a tally and noted that residents who didn’t want the move outnumbered those who did by 5-to-1,” said LaBella. “To spend $6 million to disrupt the schools, I just didn’t see the proof that it is appropriate.”
Two board members, Maryanne Fisher and Jane Ryan, were for the move, but abstained.
The board went on to adopt the 2014-2015 school budget of $189,746,159.