Dermoth Mattison.

Dermoth Mattison. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

A charter school being proposed for Central Islip will be opposed by three school districts in the region, each saying it would draw students and resources away from public schools.

Officials in Bay Shore, Brentwood and Central Islip strongly oppose an effort by South Shore Charter School to start an elementary school. A charter school had been proposed in the region about five years ago, but the application was withdrawn after vocal opposition.

Dermoth Mattison, one of the founders of the proposed school, said he represents Central Islip parents and educators who are seeking change. He noted that, according to the state Department of Education, only 28% of Central Islip students are reading at grade level in the elementary and middle schools.

"Parents believe that it is time to break the cycle," he said, adding that the school would offer an extended school day and year, as well as free after-school programs. He said it would serve special education students and English-language learners. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted academic achievement, he said.

"With students receiving reduced in-person instruction for over a year, they have fallen even further behind. This is especially true for the African American and Hispanic students in Central Islip," said Mattison, who added that he does not have a child in the school system and was not part of the initial charter proposal about five years ago.

There are five charter schools operating on Long Island, including Riverhead Charter School in Suffolk County. The school serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Charter schools, which are privately run but funded by local districts, generally draw praise from parents for their individualized instruction and extended class days. Critics, however, contend that the schools weaken traditional public systems by taking away their students and financial resources.

Mattison, 37, an online adjunct professor at the Bay Shore campus of Touro College Graduate School of Education, said the charter school is seeking approval to teach kindergarten through fifth grade. The South Shore Charter website also notes that there are plans to extend to a middle and high school if the elementary program is approved.

"Parents are frustrated because their voices have been ignored for a very long time. As a result, the community is demanding a change," said Mattison, a former administrator at Academy Charter School in Hempstead.

Robert Feliciano, Brentwood's school board president, said in a statement that a charter school would take "funds away from our schools" and "have a negative impact on our district's programming and students' educational opportunities."

Charter schools operate separately from traditional systems, and their revenue depends on the number of students they attract. Charter revenue is mostly in the form of tuition paid by students' home districts. Startup money for a charter school typically comes from fundraising.

Bay Shore Superintendent Joseph Bond.

Bay Shore Superintendent Joseph Bond. Credit: Bay Shore School District

Bay Shore Superintendent Joseph Bond said that, if approved, a charter school could lead to downsizing, or the elimination of programs, in his district.

"There is no need and no demand from our community for this type of school," he said in a statement. "Our performance and excellent programs are considered the gold standard. Why would people gamble with their children’s future by sending them to an untested school?"

The Central Islip district, in a statement, said: "It would be counterproductive to the very mission of our school district to support such a project."

Both the SUNY Charter Schools Institute and State Board of Regents authorize charters. South Shore noted on its website that it will apply to the Board of Regents. The process for new charter applications submitted to the state begins May 3, according to the state.

Charter schools were created in New York in 1998, operating under five-year contracts.

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