The Valley Stream Central High School District’s Board of Education listened as three members of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee presented their recommendations on the district’s school-choice policy at a committee meeting on Feb. 6. Each member represented his or her view to revise the school-choice policy, restructure the district or keep the policy as it is.
The first to present was Krista Testani, the North High School mother who created a petition arguing that North High School was overcrowded as a result of students waiving out of Memorial Junior High School and Central High School. “A consequence of the exodus… is the crowding issues that over time is developing in District 13 and 24 and requires this Board to be proactive in order to avoid an eventual ‘overcrowding’ or breach of the functional capacity of District 13 and/or 24,” she read from her sub-committee’s printed proposals.
To prevent overcrowding, her sub-committee, consisting of 13 members of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee, suggested that the board eliminate the mailing of the waiver, add language to the policy that approval of the waiver is dependent on projected enrollment levels and rezone all Valley Stream schools to have all seventh- and eighth-graders attend Memorial Junior High School. According to President Bill Stris, the board considered making Memorial Junior High School a centralized middle school seven years ago, but decided against it because only residents of Foster Avenue would need transportation.
“There’s some minor proposals and there are some proposals in there that are much more drastic,” Testani told the Board. “But as a board with the experience of running this school district, we’re hoping that you will, you know, tear them apart and investigate them, evaluate them and see if there’s anything worthwhile that you could possibly implement.”
Tina Castelluzzo signed that subcommittee’s proposals, but also submitted her own. Her recommendations, as a representative of the Special Education Parents and Teachers Association, were to split the centralized high school district into three kindergarten through 12-grade districts. Acknowledging that restructuring may not be feasible, her back-up recommendation was to have all of the James A. Dever School zoned for North and have all three District 24 schools zoned for South. Then, her proposal states, the waiver policy would no longer be necessary.
Others on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee expressed their belief that there is no reason to change the waiver policy, because they disagree with architects’ reports that North High School is at “crowding” levels. In October, architects from Patchogue-based BBS Architects & Engineers explained to the Citizens’ Advisory Committee that North’s functional capacity — the number of students who could pursue the full range of activities comfortably, given the building’s square footage — was 1,572. North’s current enrollment is 1,383, which is 88 percent of the calculated functional capacity and slightly greater than national average of about 85 percent, according to the architectural firm. Superintendent Bill Heidenreich said that 88 percent was “crowding,” and that if North were to exceed 100 percent of its functional capacity, that would be “overcrowding.”
But Kathleen Dervin suggested in past meetings that the numbers were inaccurate because, for example, the architects said that the orchestra rooms can fit up to 35 students, even though the orchestra does not have 35 members. In another instance, she said, the architects put the capacity for smaller rooms, such as resource rooms, at zero, although they may be occupied by as many as eight students at a time. Heidenreich responded at the time that architects round down student capacities because students could only be represented by whole numbers, not fractions.
At the committee meeting, Dervin also argued that overall enrollment has been steady between all three high schools and that the data they were given as members of the committee do not show that any classes had more than 35 students. “Our subcommittee has decided that without any real empirical evidence, we can’t support recommending changing any of the waiver policy or rezoning,” she said.
Instead, her subcommittee recommended that the elementary school districts hold re-registrations annually to ensure that students are not attending schools without their parents or guardians paying taxes; that the English as a New Language program be moved from North High School to Memorial Junior High School and Central High School; and that boundary lines for the elementary school districts be re-evaluated. Those suggestions were not signed, but 10 members of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee shared notes for the speech at the committee meeting.
A Residency Advisory Committee already looks at polices in districts 13, 24 and at the Central High School District. The committee investigates students that are believed to be attending the schools without paying taxes. Its investigations begin with a tip-off phone call through the residency hotline, or when a school official provides the committee with a tip. Residents can share tips by calling (516) 872-5677. Calls can be taken anonymously.
Last year, 54 students were found to have attended schools illegally and were asked to leave. But residents such as Irene Cavaliere, who represented the Wheeler Avenue School Parent Teachers Association on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee, said there are more students who are attending the schools illegally.
“The taxpayers deserve the full efforts of the district and the Board of Education to allocate any more resources that are needed and are not in place right now, because there are students in these buildings whose families don’t pay taxes,” Cavaliere said. “So before anybody is going to say you can’t exercise a waiver, and you’re a taxpayer, you have to go back and say everything has been done, and not just the 54 that were published who were asked to leave last year. There’s more.”