Mixed Feelings At Forum

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Tensions, emotions run high as Westbury presents bond details

The first community forum to discuss the Westbury School District’s proposed $172.6 million bond ended on a contentious note, as the meeting gave way to bickering and escalated tensions.

A presentation of the bond details on Nov. 7 was followed by an impassioned public comment portion, with people speaking fervently both in favor and against the bond. The meeting ended shortly after an argument erupted between school board president, Pless Dickerson, and a community member in the audience in regards to a speaker’s comments.

While some community members voiced their support of the district’s proposed $172.6 million bond for capital improvements to help accommodate the needs of the district’s growing student population, others said there were more important factors that had to be addressed.

“I don’t think the overcrowding is the problem, it’s the morale of the students and teachers,” said resident Shannel Waters. “I think they need to look at other options and get their ratings up first.”

Since the Westbury School District introduced a bond proposal back in August, community reaction has been mixed. While few would disagree that the buildings are overcrowded, some argue that the project needs to be cut back.

“Yes we do need more classrooms and overcrowded classrooms do affect academic performance,” said resident Larry Kirton at Saturday’s meeting. “But do we need a $173 million project?”

As in prior bond presentations, Superintendent Dr. Mary Lagnado stressed the need for building improvements due to enrollment growth. The student population has grown 3 percent each year for the past five years, Lagnado said.

“There are currently 5,206 children enrolled. We have to do something,” Lagnado said. “These schools are not built for the capacity of children we have now. We do not have adequate facilities.”

Paula David, a parent of a junior at the high school, spoke in favor of the bond at Saturday’s forum.

“Every morning I get my daughter ready for school and I hear about how overcrowded the high school is,” said David. “Our kids deserve more. It’s a tragedy for her and her peers to experience this on a daily basis. The high school needs renovations.”

In addition to a new, larger, energy-efficient middle school with turf athletic fields, the district is also looking at major renovations at other district buildings. Additional classrooms and cafeteria space, upgraded science labs and a new turf field are planned for the high school, and the elementary schools are poised for additional classrooms, bathrooms, gym additions and larger lobbies. Safety and security upgrades are also planned across the district buildings.

Another major impetus for the district to undertake the bond now is that the project is eligible for 76.6 percent New York State Building Aid. If the bond is passed, the cost to a homeowner with the average assessed home value of $323,133 would be $298.14 from 2019-49.
Lagnado said the district is looking at other options, including downsizing the bond, the feasibility of a split schedule at the high school and getting portable classrooms. But Lagnado noted there was a need for a permanent solution to the problem of the overcrowded schools.

“Portables are not a permanent measure,” Lagnado said. “It’s temporary and costly. We don’t want band aids. We want something that will last for the future.”

The bond was initially set for a vote on Nov. 17, but was pushed back to a yet-to-be-decided date as the board of education seeks to better inform the community as to the needs of the district and scope of the project. Saturday’s meeting was their first community forum, which was preceded by a building tour of Westbury Middle School on Oct. 28.

The district will hold several building tours next month, starting with Dryden Street School on Monday, Dec. 7 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., followed by Westbury Middle School and Westbury High School at 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., respectively, on Tuesday, Dec. 8. There will be a tour of Park Avenue School on Wednesday, Dec. 9 from 9:30 to 11 a.m.; Powells Lane on Thursday, Dec. 10 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; and Drexel Avenue on Friday, Dec. 11 from 1:45 to 2:45 p.m.

“You need to see what our children, faculty and administration are dealing with on a daily basis,” said board of education president Pless Dickerson. “Encourage your neighbors to come out and look and see for yourself and be an informed voter.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. How about doing something to get rid of all the illegal apts, many of these people coming here don’t even pay school taxes, so why should Westbury residents have to foot the bill? This is hurting our Village! Residents are tired of seeing their town becoming a dumping ground for these people!

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