Two Central High School District trustees surprised audience members at the district’s June 11 meeting, when they made motions to help fix North High School’s alleged crowding issue.
First, Toni Pomerantz suggested that the district move its English as a New Language program from North to the Memorial Junior High and Central High schools. There are currently 220 students enrolled in the program, all of whom are required to attend North.
“It is my opinion that it is what is best for children,” Pomerantz said of her proposal at the board meeting, which set off a round of applause and cheers from parents and students in the audience.
The board, however, voted down her proposal, 5 – 2
Then, Trustee Bill Stris made a motion to reduce the high school’s functional capacity limit, which is the number of students the building can reasonably accommodate, to 90 percent. The calculation considers what each educational space is used for, and the square footage of the building’s classrooms, corridors, stairways and exits.
In 2017, architects from Patchogue-based BBS Architects determined that North’s capacity was 1,572 students, and, with 1,383 students, the school was at 88 percent of its capacity. At the same time, however, Central High School was at 52 percent of its functional capacity, and South at 62 percent.
“Whether North High School is overcrowded, that’s in the eye of the beholder,” Stris said, but added, “the time has come that we balance out the schools.”
When that proposal also failed, parents jeered.
Students and parents alike have been claiming over the past few months that, with North at nearly 90 percent of its capacity, the school’s custodial staff has been struggling to maintain it. In March, several students said the science classrooms did not have working eyewashes or gas, and that there was “unidentifiable matter” on one of the room’s desks.
To alleviate these concerns, district officials have brought in extra cleaning crews and filled a custodial vacancy at the school. Wayne Loper, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, also said that he and Science Department Chairman John Pandolfi inspected all of the eyewash stations following the March meeting and replaced ones that were not working. They also implemented a system mandating that the custodial staff log when they clean the stations each month.
Students have said that they have seen some improvements since they brought up their concerns in March.
“Recently we have witnessed an increase in overall cleanliness and upkeep of maintenance in our school,” Junior Shannon Morgan said at the meeting. “Yes, there is still work to be done, but we are moving in the right direction and that should be viewed as a win for all of us tonight.”
She said, however, she and her fellow students have been discouraged by the board’s response to the situation. Since she has been coming to the school board meetings, Morgan said she has noticed that the board did not answer several parent and student questions, which, she said, “is very frustrating.”
She also said she was disheartened when she saw that more than 800 parents voted against the district’s 2019 - 20 budget, even though it passed with more than 1,200 votes. Following the vote, she said, she spoke to some of the parents who voted no, and found that they did so because they either felt their tax money was not being used properly or because they were upset with the board’s response to their concerns.
“We should all be in this together,” Morgan said, encouraging everyone to communicate more effectively “instead of viewing these meetings as a them-versus-us situation.”
Board President John Maier agreed, saying, “We will try to work with you.”