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LI district expects $6M-plus surplus

This week's top stories

1. Wyandanch expects surplus when district closes books

After two years of operating in the red, the Wyandanch school district expects to show a $6 million-plus surplus when it closes the books for 2019-20, a state-appointed monitor reported. The 2,700-student district, rated the poorest on Long Island in terms of taxable income and property, might be ready within three or four years to approve a bond issue of $30 million or so for renovating and expanding old school buildings, said Albert Chase, the monitor.

Wyandanch's board president, James Crawford, told Newsday on Wednesday that board trustees, who approved the plan generally, had discussed the idea of bond borrowing.

"We figure it's a possibility, but we have to talk to the community to see if it's possible," Crawford said.

Chase's fiscal improvement plan noted "We Are Rising," Wyandanch's motto. "And it is apparent that the district is indeed rising from the low point that it was at less than two years ago. The challenge will be to continue unabated along that path," said Chase, who began his five-year term in May. Three districts — Wyandanch, Hempstead and Rochester — were authorized state monitors in January after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed bills that instituted such oversight to help straighten out tangled finances. The plan that Chase issued in early November cautions that the Wyandanch system "remains one major incident away from a financial crisis."

Wyandanch is not the only district facing financial uncertainty. Cuomo has warned he may have to cut state aid to all districts by up to 20% — possibly within the next month — if the federal government does not provide relief to state and local governments still reeling from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wyandanch relies particularly on state aid, and its share of any statewide loss could exceed $9 million, Chase estimated.

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2. Some LI schools, citing COVID concerns, extend break

Several Long Island schools districts kept their doors closed this week, switching instead to remote instruction to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 after anticipated holiday travel, officials said.

  • Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said a person becomes infectious five to seven days after exposure to the virus. That would mean a student or staff member exposed on Thanksgiving would have started to be infectious around Tuesday, she said.
  • Dr. Leonard Krilov, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at NYU Langone Long Island, said he understands the rationale behind the closures, but he intended to send his 10-year-old daughter to her school in Syosset on Monday. "I've been really impressed by the job the schools have done — the cleaning, the masks, the distancing," he said. "The schools have not been the epicenter for COVID-19."

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3. After tragedy, mom takes on rip current education

On a recent Friday, 14 students sat in Room 164 at Garden City High School and about the same number listened remotely to a lesson about rip currents. The lesson was created by Josephine de Moura, whose daughter Alexandra drowned last summer in a rip current in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Since Alexandra’s death, de Moura has been on a mission to increase education about the dangerous currents that can carry people out to the ocean.

  • Though Alexandra was a lifelong athlete, she likely did not know about rip currents, her mother says. When giving lessons, she feels she's "speaking on behalf of my daughter, an athlete who didn't know about rip current," de Moura said. "I thought about how many other people who are not athletes didn't know."
  • So far this year, about 300 students have taken the rip current unit, which all 10th-grade health students are scheduled to take. The Garden City district plans to offer the course to middle-schoolers in the spring. "The kids are really responsive. The fact is, it didn’t happen a long time ago. We had students in the class who knew Alex," said Paul Cutter, a health and physical education teacher at the high school.

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4. Experts see pronounced inequities among public schools

Educational inequities that existed in public schools before the pandemic have become more pronounced as the virus spreads. That was the consensus of a panel of experts gathered Tuesday for a Newsday Live webinar titled "School & COVID-19: The Issues Distance Learning Exposed."

  • "Very, very simply it really gets down to resources," said William Johnson, state monitor for Hempstead Public Schools, "and the ability to maximize those resources." Issues include access to technology needed to remote-learn versus in-person, in-school education: a lack of home computers, and a lack of bandwidth needed to follow class lessons synchronously even when they do have computer access.
  • Recently, a student at Robert Frost Middle School in Deer Park had a "full-blown panic attack" during an in-person school lesson, said Amina Kennedy, a secondary English teacher at the school. "What if she had this at home? Who would've been there to support her?" asked Kennedy, adding that schools need more social workers to help students deal with daily life. "The number one thing missing is the socio-emotional support."

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Resources for you

  • For those looking for an activity to do with the kids that involves getting out of the house, the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County are holding their 17th annual drive-thru holiday light show at Smith Point County Park in Shirley. The mile-long route includes light displays of the Empire State Building, a candy factory, Santa Claus on a tropical vacation, a menorah and more. Visit smithpointlightshow.com.

Round of applause

A Bethpage High School senior recently revamped his school's outdoor courtyard, turning a neglected area into one he's "extremely proud of."

David Yorke, 17, used about $1,000 in donations he received from friends and family to fund the project. He tackled the renovations as part of his Eagle Scout Service Project.

With the help of fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 46, he performed tasks ranging from weeding to planting flowers to repainting and repairing a memorial well that honors a former principal. He also had to rent a thatcher and use a power washer — provided by the family of a fellow troop member — to complete the project.

"There were a lot of bugs, and it was overgrown," Yorke said of the original courtyard. "I'm extremely proud of how it came out. I think it's a huge improvement."

Your questions answered

Have questions? Send them to ednews@newsday.com. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.

Is my district in a COVID-19 hot spot zone?

New York State's Micro-Cluster Strategy identifies clusters and the areas around them. It categorizes them into one or more color-coded zones with corresponding levels of restrictions based on severity, starting with yellow, then orange, and last is red. Special rules and restrictions directly target areas with the highest transmission of COVID-19 cases and surrounding communities. The state has outlined those restrictions and rules within each of the clusters on its website. To make it easy, people can type in an address to search the map and find out if they fall into one of those zones. Visit covidhotspotlookup.health.ny.gov.

— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Catherine Carrera can be reached at catherine.carrera@newsday.com or on Twitter @CattCarrera.

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