Board will create advisory panel to examine school expansion options

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Two weeks after voters rejected their proposed $14.9 million building expansion, Remsenburg/Speonk School Board members announced Monday that they are seeking applications from district residents who want to serve on an advisory board charged with coming up with a new expansion plan for the elementary school.

At their work session Monday night, board members worked on drafting a letter to the community asking for applications for a new building expansion focus group that would report to the School Board. The advisory group, district officials said, would work on devising a plan for school expansion that the taxpayers could support.

Additionally, district officials announced that a second vote on a school expansion project would not be held until the summer or fall—at the earliest. Citing time restraints, officials said Monday that a vote could not be held in May, when taxpayers cast their ballots on the school budget.

“It’s too hard to project when the next vote will be,” School Board President Jeremiah Collins said Tuesday. “It depends on how things go with the focus group. It could go quickly; it could be a long process.”

Earlier this month, the School Board’s plan for a $14.9 million expansion project—which would have doubled the size of the school and resulted in a spike in school property taxes starting two years down the road—was overwhelmingly rejected by taxpayers, with more than 80 percent opposing the plan.

The new building expansion focus group could feature between half a dozen to a dozen members, and members would be required to meet about two times a month for the next six months, according to school officials. Additional requirements are listed on the school website, rsufsd.org.

Mr. Collins explained that School Superintendent Katherine Salomone and at least one School Board member would sit on the advisory panel. The applications from the public must be filed with the board by late January.

“We need to build consensus,” School Board member Thomas Kerr said Monday night, referring to the need to create an independent board. “Some people may not volunteer for this … because it’s such a hot potato.”

School Board member Lisa Fox countered that there are so many differing opinions in the community that board members should have no problem filling the open slots on the advisory panel.

“This is a clean slate, a fresh start,” Ms. Fox said about the new focus group. “What’s the hot potato?”

She noted that people who would shy away from working on the group because the expansion project is such a hot potato are “not right” for the new panel.

Five members of Citizens Advocating Responsible Expansion, a group that opposes the original expansion plan, attended Monday’s meeting. However, they were not allowed to address board members as Mr. Collins had previously announced that there would be no public comment during the meeting.

Following the work session, Citizens Advocating Responsible Expansion (CARE) member Kathy McGinnis said she supports the board’s effort to create a focus group.

“At least now we have the opportunity to have more input,” said Ms. McGinnis, who also serves as the village clerk for Westhampton Beach. “Now we’re back at square one.”

Carol Huber, another member of CARE, also applauded the efforts of School Board members.

“But we shouldn’t jump the gun,” Ms. Huber warned. “We shouldn’t move too fast with this.”

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