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Long IslandEducation

Surging enrollment prompts $200M bond measure in Uniondale

Bilal Polson, principal of Northern Parkway Elementary School,

Bilal Polson, principal of Northern Parkway Elementary School, outside one of the school's portable buildings in Uniondale Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

Surging enrollment in the Uniondale school district — one of Long Island’s largest and poorest — is fueling a nearly $200 million bond proposal that would add more classroom space to meet the demand.

The $199.9 million referendum, scheduled for Dec. 7, would pay for new classrooms as well as other improvements and renovations. More services would be provided in-house under the proposal, such as prekindergarten and special education instruction, officials said.

The district, with a current enrollment of 7,290, expects that number to rise over the next decade by at least 730. Enrollment over the past five years has increased by 940 students, or 15 percent.

The added capacity would put an end to the districtwide use of 12 basement classrooms and 10 portable structures, which are located separately from the main school building.

The Uniondale school system is the third-largest in Nassau County. Sixty-three percent of students — about 4,200 — were eligible for a free and reduced lunch in the 2015-16 school year, according to the state Education Department.

The proposed expansion and improved resources give students “the same opportunity to compete because a lot of other districts — many other districts — have these same types of project upgrades already,” said Superintendent William Lloyd.

Bilal Polson, principal of Northern Parkway Elementary School, which houses four separate portable buildings, said the bond work “keeps all of the learning community in one space together.”

District officials said that homeowners would foot about 16 percent of the bill for the 20-year bond, or roughly $31.6 million. State aid would cover 59 percent, or $118.9 million. Commercial taxpayers would fund more than $45.5 million, or nearly 23 percent of costs, while additional funding from the Smart Schools bond grant pays for $3.8 million, or nearly 2 percent of the bond.

The average resident with a home assessed at $300,000 will pay about $270 annually for the debt service, while the figure rises to more than $360 for the owner of a $400,000 home.

Some taxpayers have expressed concern about the size and scope of the proposed work. In recent years, community activism on the Island has influenced local borrowing decisions.

In 2015, the Westbury school district proposed a $172.6 million bond, citing a surge of immigrant students. But officials canceled the vote several weeks later amid local opposition.

In February, voters in the Great Neck school district defeated an $85.9 million bond proposal. The district cut nearly $18 million from the project for a new proposal approved by voters in May.

Robert Zarro, 80, a school district resident who lives in Westbury, said that many residents live on a fixed income. “It’s a ridiculous sum,” he said of the cost of Uniondale’s referendum. “We shouldn’t have to foot this bill.”

Lloyd said he understands residents’ concerns, but said the state aid and grant money makes the homeowners’ portion “affordable.”

“You’re getting a Rolls-Royce at a Hyundai price,” Lloyd said. “It’s a really great bargain and buy for the community.”

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