Hempstead school district board members made their case last week for the district's need for nine new and bigger schools, citing outdated buildings, a growing student population and overcrowding throughout the district.
"We could use new schools," trustee JoAnn Simmons said at Thursday night's board meeting. "Sometimes people talk about 'You can learn anywhere.' But if you have a good environment, and you put on some clean clothes and look good, you feel good."
Earlier this month, school district officials solicited requests for proposals seeking a consultant to secure state funding and obtain grants for the potential construction, which could approach $350 million, based on state figures. The schools in the district are at least 70 years old, officials said.
The district would be eligible for state reimbursement of 88 percent of the project costs. Assembly Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) has said she would help the district get even more funds.
"I will not be asking the [district] taxpayers for one penny," said Superintendent Susan Johnson, adding she hinted at the plans in her State of the School District Address last year. She added, "We have been informed that if we were to do any buildings, it would be done at 100 percent" reimbursement.
Board president Betty Cross said, "We absolutely need new schools and we will have new schools."
The multiyear capital improvement project would include demolishing and reconstructing the vacant Rhodes School, the other seven elementary schools, and the middle school. The project would not include Hempstead High School or the recently refurbished kindergarten-only Prospect School.
"We have a lot of issues that we need to be discussing," trustee Shelley Brazley said, citing staff development and student achievement. "We can't just tear down nine buildings and build up another nine without any comprehensive plan." As for the state reimbursement, "If we're getting our money from Albany, it's still tax money," she said.
State education department officials have said the district has more than 40 portable classrooms that need to be replaced. District officials said the new buildings would help end the district's dependency on portable classrooms.
"There are a lot of kids in trailers. That's a problem and we need new buildings," trustee Lamont Johnson said, adding that if the funding is available, the schools should be built.