Residents speak out against school closing
Advocates of sparing a North Bellmore elementary school from possible closure voiced concerns about the impact on education at a packed public hearing Thursday night.
"We are talking about making a decision on closing a school when none of you guys have the proper information to make that decision," said resident Kevin Mattei, 34, who questioned the board's future fiscal projections.
He was one of about 200 residents in the district who turned out for the public hearing at Saw Mill Road School about the possible closure of Jacob Gunther Elementary School.
Last month, a divided citizens advisory committee recommended that the district close Gunther next year to save about $1 million.
"I know how hard this is for everyone sitting here," said Superintendent Arnold Goldstein, adding that if the district has to close a building, educators would "make it work" and handle the process in a sensitive way with students foremost in mind.
"We are doing it . . . because we see problems ahead and we are obligated to address those problems," Goldstein said.
Thomas Montalbano, 41, who has a daughter in second grade, said the board is caving to pressure from Albany. He said he would pay higher taxes to keep the school open.
"Our kids don't need this," he said. "Our kids are stressing out. Raise my taxes and that's it."
Many residents had expected the 239-student Gunther school to be targeted, in part because it has the smallest enrollment of the district's six buildings. The proposal is expected to go before the North Bellmore School Board for a final vote Dec. 13 and board members strongly emphasized Thursday that no final decision has been made.
North Bellmore school officials and a consultant have calculated that the district could save $1.033 million by closing a school. Goldstein said the district aims to "preserve programs, class sizes and the services we currently have."
On Oct. 27, a committee of residents and employees voted 19-1 to shut a school, joining a growing list of Long Island districts that have taken the step because of declining enrollment and financial pressures.
Then, of 21 votes cast by secret ballot, 12 members voted to close Gunther, six to close Newbridge Road Elementary, two to close John G. Dinkelmeyer Elementary and one to close Park Avenue Elementary.
Gunther also has the second-smallest capacity in the district, and enrollment is expected to decline to 199 in 2015, Goldstein said yesterdayThursday.
The public hearing in North Bellmore comes the same week that the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced closing six Catholic grammar schools next June because of declining enrollment and West Islip school officials are discussing closing two elementary schools and consolidating all students in grades 6-8 into one middle school.