Can we afford to close schools? Can we afford not to?
It’s a debate raging all over Long Island, dividing opinion in West Islip where two elementary schools are set to close.
“I’m hoping they do what’s right and what’s best for the kids and if it means closing some schools and consolidating them into others, then so be it,” said West Islip parent Robert Marino.
But another parent, Angela Messina, said, “I pay $28,000 in taxes. It shouldn’t be that my school is probably one of the schools closing. It’s just not right.”
From Baldwin to North Bellmore, from West Islip to Smithtown, parents are turning out to question plans to close elementary schools deemed underutilized due to declining student enrollment, a cost squeeze compounded by a new state law capping property tax increases at 2 percent.
By one measure, elementary school enrollment in Nassau County declined 11 percent in eleven years. By another, Long Island school enrollment declined by over 6 percent in five years. Consequently, schools are closing. And recent census data suggest that the number of young children preparing for school on Long Island continues to decline.
Yet, despite years of declining enrollments, the Empire State Center reports, school districts throughout the state continued to add teaching staff and administrators. Obviously this can’t go on, and it hasn’t. During the last school year, some 1,400 positions were eliminated at Long Island schools.
While it is regrettable that many school districts must downsize, don’t blame tax caps. Instead, give the state’s tax cap law credit for helping Long Island school districts face a painful reality.