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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Suozzi's Nassau school proposal: He's half right

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi (Nov. 4, 2009)

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi (Nov. 4, 2009) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The problem with Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi's idea of taking over county schools is that it's heavy on finger-pointing and light on details.

In an essay in the Sunday Newsday opinion section, Suozzi portrayed himself as the stunned and hurt victim of voter anger over high taxes. And, especially, school district taxes - over which, as he noted, repeatedly and correctly - he has no control.

Suozzi's solution was to have the county's top elected official take control over the whole shebang. By his reasoning, school districts would get one local boss, directly beholden to taxpayers.

Nassau residents also would gain the ability to kick Suozzi - should he hang on for a third term and decide to go for a fourth - out of office for something he actually did.

While the notion of knocking down a boss rather than a proposed school budget might sound satisfying to some, the idea of mainlining even more politics into Long Island's already politically muscular school districts makes me queasy.

Besides, Long Island, where most schools perform well, is not New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over a system that appeared to be in chaos.

Still, Suozzi is on to something.

And he gets to it, finally, in the third-to-last paragraph of Sunday's essay:

"The current system costs too much and it is completely inequitable," he wrote. "Tax rates fluctuate wildly from district to district. Quality in some school districts in Nassau is considered among the best in the country; others are among the worst in the state."

The crazy-quilt system of school districts does cost too much. And residents in similar communities do pay wildly different rates. And there are differences - such as graduation rates - between the region's best and worst performing schools that ought to make every Long Islander cringe.

But in this fragile economy, taxes are turning into more of an issue than education on Long Island. And that's not good for school districts, either. The region is at a point where residents - including the staunchest supporters of school district autonomy - are buckling under a tax load that keeps getting heavier.

Suozzi, in the essay, said that county executive control would "both reduce costs and improve educational quality."

Those are two measures any taxpayer could support - if Suozzi, and others who support the idea of school consolidation, come up with hard data to support them.

At this point, residents are ready to listen.

>>RELATED: Click here to read Tom Suozzi's opinion essay

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