2017-06-07 / Front Page

Heated MSD meeting as fate of 6th grade plan hangs in balance

by Michael Scro

Reaction to the election of incoming Massapequa Board Of Education Trustee Brian Butler, and the fate of the sixth grade re-configuration plan, scheduled for this September, was the focus of the June 1 board meeting at which Superintendent Lucille Iconis warned about the consequences of rescinding the move at this point.

While the board approved the plan last year, and set into motion, Butler, who will be sworn in July 13, has raised concerns about it, could be the swing vote needed to halt the plan.

The reconfiguration was approved 3-2 in February 2016, with Trustees Jane Ryan, Gary Baldinger and Mary Ann Fisher voting for the move and Trustees Tim Taylor and Joseph LaBella opposing it. Ryan’s departure from the board next month, and Butler’s election puts the issue into question because he campaigned on a promise to revisit the 6th grade issue, with the possibility of rescinding it, and allowing the community more input into the decision. Since then, however, he has made statements, including on his Facebook page, indicating he has read several studies about placing sixth graders in Middle School and no longer supports the change.

Taylor has consistently opposed the move. LaBella, who voted against it twice, said in April that while he opposed the change, he did not want to be an obstructionist and would support the move to ensure its success. "Now with Brian on board, opposition to the move is no longer the minority position,” he said.  “My vote has never changed—I've voted it down twice and will vote it down again. This is not about me, I am there to reflect the will of the community, and the majority does not want this."

  Taylor told the Massapequa Post that he reached out to Iconis and the supporting board members on June 2, notifying them that the support structure is there to rescind it, and asked them to stop any other further preparations and expenditures.

Superintendent Iconis also sent a letter to district parents alerting them of the upcoming July 13 meeting, and to expect the reconfiguration to be rescinded.

Support for and against the move has shifted several times as school board members representing both sides came and went. The change would take the 6th graders out of the elementary schools and put them into Berner Middle School, bringing about a different instructional plan that Iconis says meets the educational needs of these students and would make Berner Middle School among the largest in Suffolk County.   

Opponents said the change offers no educational advantages, opens 6th graders to potentially damaging and dangerous social problems such as the illegal use of drugs, and is too costly.

But Iconis said a change at this time raises problems and could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to redo the staffing and curriculum, cancelling professional development and facing potential contract violations.

Watch upcoming print edition of Massapequa Post for more on this story.


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