Although fewer than 20 residents were in the Glen Cove High School auditorium during the school district’s community bond forum on April 8, there was no shortage of opinions to be heard. Parents of students in the district, as well as people without children lined up behind the podium, ready to provide the district’s administration and Board of Education with comments on what should be done now that the $84.6 million bond for school improvements failed to pass on March 12.
Board President Gail Nedbor-Gross and Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna opened the forum explaining that it was no normal board meeting. Rather, they said, it was geared completely toward public participation, something which Chris Mosera immediately understood, becoming the first to approach the podium.
Mosera, who has a son in the district, asked if the board had a “plan B” for the bond, or a way to move forward now that the initial bond has failed. Before Mosera’s question was answered, Glen Howard made his thoughts known to the board.
“The people I’ve talked to, and there have been a substantial number of them,” said Howard, “every single one of them said they appreciated the fact that the school needed the money, but it was far too much at that time. It just scared them.”
In response to both residents, Nedbor-Gross said that no plan B was put in place during the drawing up of the bond by the board and the bond committee. She also explained that residents finding the bond to be too expensive was a valid concern.
“It was considered at that point in time that it was beneficial to go forward with the one proposal,” Nedbor-Gross said. “We had even considered splitting it up [into] two referendums and it was finally decided by the board as a whole to go ahead with one large bond to put it out there to the public and let them decide.”
However, Nedbor-Gross said that the board may look into setting up multiple plans for any actions they may make in future.
One of the prevailing themes of the forum was the public’s belief that the board did not do enough to educate the community on the nature of the bond. Resident Janet Blatt said she felt as though people in Glen Cove did not understand that the $84.6 million would be paid over the course of 15 years. She explained that the lack of information provided by the board also allowed people who did not support the bond to create a more dominant public dialogue against it, thus spreading what she feels is misinformation.
“I have no idea how to overcome these people,” said Blatt, “I have no idea how to overcome that mentality. But I think you can at least explain better that this is not . . . that whole amount at one time, that it’s spread out over the years.”
Mosera suggested that the board could have been more active in spreading facts about the bond on social media. He sited a large presence of anti-bond voters on various Glen Cove Facebook pages who he said did not fully understand the nature of the bond. Resident Andrew Bennett said the board could have pulled data from other districts which have undergone changes from a bond and shared how the schools benefiting from such a process.
Chris Barry, who runs the district’s media communications, said he wished the board had taken advantage of GCTV to spread information about the bond.
“[My students and I] could have had weekly interviews with all of you or any of you,” Barry said, “or any information that you want to get out there during the school day when I have my students there. You have that at your disposal for nothing, so you have a powerful, powerful media tool that I would love to use.”
Resident Daniel Rios said he had seen a great deal of misinformation about the bond, stating he sees a conflict among board members that prevents the board from fulfilling its purpose. This conflict, he explained, reflects onto others, making them distrust the board and its intentions.
“I think there is a sense of trust, and I think you’re losing that,” Rios told the board. “I think we’re at a crucial time when we really have to work together, and I don’t see the members of the board working well together.”
By the end of the forum, Rianna reinforced her belief that the district still needs a bond to work on its crucial school improvements. She also explained that one of the key reasons why the bond was so expensive was because so many projects have been put off for years that cannot be delayed any longer. Board Vice President Alexander Juarez echoed these sentiments, saying that there are a large amount of smaller problems that cannot be solved until larger, more expensive issues are taken care of.
While no future forums are currently scheduled, both the Board and the district administration announced intentions to hold more in the future.