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Eastport-South Manor school district eyes 71 potential staff cuts

Administrators say staff levels have grown even as enrollment has declined, and the system has used its cash reserves to curb growth in taxes.

Patrick Brimstein, superintendent of the Eastport-South Manor school

Patrick Brimstein, superintendent of the Eastport-South Manor school district, speaks about the district's financial situation during a community budget forum on Feb. 7, 2018. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Eastport-South Manor school officials have proposed 71 staff cuts during the 2018-19 academic year to close what they describe as a looming budget deficit that threatens the district’s financial stability.

The potential layoffs, which would include dozens of teachers, were outlined at a Wednesday board meeting in the district’s high school, attended by hundreds of anxious residents.

The sprawling district, which straddles the border of Brookhaven and Southampton towns, employs about 500 workers and enrolls about 3,400 students.

School administrators said Eastport-South Manor’s fiscal woes have been building for years, as staff levels continued to climb even as enrollments fell. In addition, they said, the district has repeatedly dug into cash reserves in order to curb growth in taxes.

“The district has been living beyond its budget for a number of years,” said Superintendent Patrick Brimstein, who was brought in last May with the specific aim of righting the system’s finances.

Brimstein and his assistant superintendent for business, Tim Laube, who also is new to the district, have laid out a series of potential cuts in student programs and services, as well as the possible closing of one of the district’s four elementary schools by 2021.

For the 2018-19 school year, the administration is proposing a $93,378,095 budget, which represents a 0.49 percent spending increase.

In January, Eastport-South Manor was identified by the state comptroller’s office as among 26 districts statewide that were facing various degrees of fiscal stress. A drop in cash reserves prompted Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the district’s credit rating from AA+ to AA-, local officials said.

Linda Wygonik, president of Eastport-South Manor’s 280-member teacher union, said the organization was prepared to work together with the district’s board and administration to find financial solutions.

At the same time, Wygonik expressed concern that cuts might result in losses of advanced high school courses, as well as in larger-size elementary classes.

“Obviously, we have grave concerns about the education of our students,” said Wygonik, who has taught special education classes locally for 25 years.

The union’s current contract expires June 30.

Eastport-South Manor held two public forums in February and March to outline the district’s fiscal problems, prompting many residents to praise the new administration for its candid approach.

“I think they’re doing their best,” said Marion Diener of Manorville, a former district board member who plans to stand for election again in May. Diener voiced sympathy for teachers who face possible job losses, but said the district has to take action to balance its books.

“They’re going bankrupt. They need to make changes. It’s sad,” she said.

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