Manhasset parents raise concerns about class sizes

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About 15 parents attended Wednesday board of education meeting at Shelter Rock Elementary School, the most who have turned out to a meeting about the capital reserve project this school year. (Photo by Teri West)

A Wednesday night meeting that was intended to gauge parent opinion on how the Manhasset Board of Education should allocate its $4.8 million in capital reserve funding instead focused heavily on the number of students in the district and parent concerns that it is increasing.

Among a list of more than 25 dream projects to spend the $4.8 million on, the board has designated seven as top priorities, which still need to be narrowed down to meet the limit.

One of the highlighted priorities is new classroom space at Munsey Park Elementary School, an estimated $1.25 million project, which Superintendent Vincent Butera said would add up to eight classrooms to the school, depending on the size of the groups they are intended for.

About 15 people attended the meeting Wednesday, and when the board opened questions to the audience, parents honed in on that option. But it quickly became a discussion about what parents discern to be an increasing student population in the district.

The board already anticipates needing two more full classrooms for Munsey Park students next school year, which it promises to accommodate for in efforts unrelated to construction that might happen with capital reserve funding.

The board has standard guidelines for how many students should be in a class depending on the grade.

As of Oct. 31 statistics, the fourth grade is at Munsey Park over-guideline, board president Regina Rule said, and one parent added that her child’s sixth-grade class is now over-guideline as well. Shelter Rock Elementary School’s third grade is over-guideline and sixth grade is at guideline, Rule said.

“Our kids are being affected by more people just coming in,” one parent said. “Where are they coming from?”

There has been a lot of home turnover in Manhasset, said Deputy Superintendent for Business and Finance Rosemary Johnson.

She ran through the process that parents and students must complete to register for Manhasset schools, which involves in-person meetings and interviews.

“If something presents as unusual, out of the ordinary, we do site visits,” Johnson said, adding that such visits happen frequently.

The district has about 120 fewer students than a high in the 2014-2015 school year, Rule said.

Adding rooms to Munsey Park would provide more flexibility for the school as student population fluctuates, Butera said.

The initial idea for the project was to create classroom space in the area where the school’s stage is, but after doing a walk-through of the school, architect John Grillo and the school board have other ideas for where classrooms could be created, Butera said.

The other high priority projects that the board of education has selected are, for the secondary school, a second security vestibule, an elevator, a social-emotional learning wing and a technology wing, for Shelter Rock Elementary School, a security vestibule and locker room renovation, and, for all schools, air conditioning.

One parent suggested that the $4.8 million should be split between the district’s three schools so that a single one isn’t the sole beneficiary.

There will be four more Board of Education meetings to discuss how the capital reserve funding will be used. The board said it intends to finalize a proposal by Feb. 7.

It will be voted on with the budget on May 21. The board will then defer to the state for approval. The earliest it anticipates being able to begin construction is the summer of 2020, Butera said. 

The school district will also have debt relief in 2023, which will allow funding for projects that are a high priority but that don’t earn capital reserve funding.

While the debt officially comes off in 2023, projects can start moving two years ahead of that, Johnson said.

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