As school districts on Long Island deal with declining enrollments, closing and selling schools will become a big issue. It ought to be done in ways that gain the most revenue for districts, to further their mission of educating public school students.
In the Lawrence school district, where elementary school enrollment dropped 10 percent from 2005 to 2010, voters face a referendum Wednesday on whether to sell an elementary school building for $12.5 million. The school board voted to accept this high bid in January.
The proposed buyer, Simone Healthcare Development Group, plans to convert the facility into medical offices for about 60 doctors. The building was the newest and largest of Lawrence's elementary schools. In addition to the purchase price, this sale would put the property back on the tax rolls, generating about $1 million a year, $600,000 of which would go to the district.
Yet there is opposition because some board members preferred a $10.5-million bid that would turn the facility into a girls yeshiva, though this would keep it off the property tax rolls. Opponents of the top bid argue that medical offices aren't conducive to the neighborhood, but medical offices create less hubbub than schools. Regardless, it's a question best left to the Town of Hempstead, which would need to approve a zoning change for medical offices.
Lawrence is a complicated district in which many children attend private religious school, including the children of some board members. This has led to a sense that some of those board members aren't entirely motivated by dedication to public education. But this is a simple vote, as it should be in any district that finds itself selling assets. The best move for the district and the children it serves is approving the sale of this school to the highest bidder, for its taxable use, and that's how voters ought to cast their ballots.