North Shore, South Shore, all around Long Island there’s talk of school closings to save district’s money in these dire economic times.
Several school systems, including West Islip, North Bellmore, and Smithtown, have already put school-chopping proposals on the table. And more are sure to follow in a weak economy with decreased state aid and a 2 percent budget cap on the horizon for 2012-2013.
Whenever school closings are proposed, parents get upset. For the most part, they are dedicated to their home schools and don’t want their children to be used as pawns in school-shuttering plans. They like their principals and their teachers and the familiarity of their neighborhood schools. But the financial burden is becoming almost insurmountable. So what are districts to do?
According to Martin R. Cantor, CPA, Ed.D, the director of The Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, consolidation of Long Island’s school districts could save millions of dollars a year and would still preserve local control. And just this week, New York State’s new education commissioner, Dr. John B. King, Jr., agreed with the idea for Long Island and Westchester.
Dr. Cantor, a former director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College, estimates that the 47 school districts in western Suffolk County could save $32 million a year by forming five town-wide systems.
Under his proposal, the merger of dozens of local districts would allow the elimination of the vast majority of school superintendents, business and personnel officials. And he would give principals the power to budget and hire. Although consolidation has been proposed many times in the past, Dr. Cantor believes the time may now be right if parents want to stop the trend of increased class sizes and reduced student services.
Dr. King, on the other hand, is in favor of a more sweeping countywide consolidation. He points to county systems in similar suburbs, such as those in Maryland and Virginia, which have comfortable, well-educated residents.
Merging districts has always been a political hot potato and no one expects school boards and central office administrators to voluntarily give up their power. Yet Dr. Cantor says he is trying to raise awareness that there is an alternative to the yearly decimation of educational programs and services.
By the way, Newsday this week supported the concept of consolidation. It sided with Cantor’s proposal for town-wide district consolidation, saying the commissioner’s proposal was too severe for Long Island. The paper noted the historical hardcore resistance to mergers on Long Island, citing Elwood’s failed attempt last year to find merger partners. But it says the state could offer incentives to make the idea more palatable.
It is up to parents to lead the charge if consolidation is to become a reality. As Newsday put it, “The solution lies in making parents understand that as times get hard and the recently passed tax cap kicks in, the only way to save beloved programs threatened by tight budgets is efficiency. Taxpayers who really want to see kids get the best in education and activities may have to let go of their dedication to tiny schools and tiny districts.
“As money gets tighter, things change. If the other choice is a drop-off in educational offerings, parents and taxpayers should demand that districts look hard at consolidation rather than fight it. Once they do, the process will be halfway home -- and everyone will be closer to a more efficient and equitable way to educate our children.”
Dr. Cantor offers some reassurance to parents who are frightened by the prospect of consolidation by emphasizing that it “gives parents control of their local schools; children remain in the schools that the parents moved into the neighborhoods for. Parents will have more say in education because their local principals will be in charge of the budget and student achievement, not isolated administrators. Classes would remain smaller and teachers preserved.”
He added that the factors that would change with consolidation would not impact the students’ school experience but rather are “budget items that have no role in the children’s education; in fact it directs more school budget dollars to the classroom.”
And, Dr. Cantor stressed, “the plan preserves the neighborhood school. Children are not transported to other schools and districts. Nothing changes but better education at lower costs.”
I urge all parents to read Dr. Cantor’s consolidation plan on his website, www.martincantor.com. Click the publication link; the paper is at the bottom of the list.
Become familiar with all of the issues related to this topic. Deep cuts are on the horizon in all districts. Be informed, and decide for yourself what’s best for your children’s education!
For more information from Dr. Meryl Ain, please visit: