Monroe board defends trailers’ location decision; gives public special chance to voice opinions

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2 | MonroeNow | Aug 29, 2018

MONROE – The Board of Education and the district administration faced a public backlash for the decision to install temporary classroom trailers along a busy county road.

The objections came during the Aug. 22 meeting. The board president broke away from the usual meeting format to provide a timeline of how the trailers came to be and then allowed for a special public comment portion that lasted more than an hour.

The August meeting was the first time residents could confront the school board and administration in a public setting since the trailers were installed, though the board contends the trailers’ location was public knowledge. Prior to the meeting, concerned residents have held protest, started an online petition and addressed the township council all in hopes of pressuring the district and school board to reverse its decision on the trailers’ location.

In her remarks, board President Kathy Kolupanowich ran through a list of meetings related to the trailers dating back 2015 and culminating in 2018 when the temporary classrooms were approved.

Of note was the Jan. 24 meeting, which while not listed on the agenda by name, included an aerial view of the trailers’ placement along Perrineville Road, as part of a resolution authorizing submission to the state Department of Education for review. The last page of the 10-page document, available on the district’s Board Docs website, shows the trailers’ location.

“The decision of the trailer placement was not taken lightly and was deliberated on by many people many times during the past year and a half,” Kolupanowich said. “No one person should be blamed for this decision. We have listened to the public about safety and security concerns and are doing everything in our power to make sure all students and staff are in a safe, secure, healthy environment.”

While several residents said they and the community-at-large should trust the board’s decision for the location, others also felt that Kolupanowich’s presentation showed a lack of transparency and communication to the community prior to a decision being made.

“Hearing about the transparency, we could’ve done a better job alerting the parents,” said Chrissy Skurbe, a frequent participant at school board meetings. “We have a Falcon Flyer that we’ve utilized for countless emails for the referendum to get votes. Clearly the district could have sent out a Falcon Flyer that goes to every parent with that schematic and with an understanding of where the trailers were going to go. That would have been transparent. Having to go online to download an aerial is not being transparent.”

“At many of the presentations we’ve done, we’ve always said they [trailers] will be located in the upper parking lot of the middle school,” Kolupanowich said. “The information as to where the trailers were going to be was available to the public at the [January] meeting.”

Following the meeting, acting Superintendent Robert Goodall reaffirmed the board’s position about presenting information to residents.

“I think that the board did its diligence. The administration presented all that had to be presented,” Goodall said. “They have meetings and they are open to the public. Committee meetings are open to the public for viewing.”

In giving her timeline of events, Kolupanowich indicated that much of the initial talk about the trailers and the location was conducted during the board’s Buildings, Grounds and Transportation committee meetings, which are open to the public, but residents cannot comment.

“Tonight seems to be a theme of planning and transparency with the community. We connected the trailers in that area based on feedback,” Goodall said at the Aug. 22 meeting. “If we have to add more trailers we will present that. Moving forward, we are going to be looking and considering a lot of what we heard tonight and from the [Buildings, Grounds and Transportation] meetings.”

The two connected trailers along Perrineville Road house eight classrooms and bathroom facilities, one of the concerns educators said they addressed. The temporary units will have a dedicated security staffer during school time. This week, two rows of concrete barriers will be installed parallel to Perrineville Road to prevent a wayward vehicle from striking the classrooms. In short, the security measures at the structures will match what is done at the school.

The trailers were approved this winter as a means to temporarily address overcrowding at the middle school. According to district officials, there are approximately 1,700 students enrolled at the middle school – 500 over capacity. The trailers can remain in use up to five years. In that time, the board hopes to get approval from residents to build a new middle school, after the previous measure in March failed, or find an alternative solution to address overcrowding.

While the trailers are in place, Middle School Principal Chari Chanley does not anticipate having any problems with educating children or ushering them to the main building for certain programs. She said despite the students learning in the detached classrooms they will receive the same instruction and participate in the same in-classroom projects and events.

The only time the students would receive regular classroom instruction inside the main building would be because of inclement weather, Chanley said.

“Every teacher in the trailers will have an alternate location within the school,” she said.

In expanding on Chanley’s remarks this week, Goodall said that those alternate locations could include spaces such as “the cafeteria, lecture hall or some other supplemental area. That is part of a safety plan, and is not something ideal for day-to-day operation. There is no available classrooms for day-to-day instruction.”