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Wyandanch weighs layoff of popular assistant principal to save money

Noel Rios' job status as assistant principal at

Noel Rios' job status as assistant principal at Wyandanch Memorial High School, shown on Nov. 4, 2010, has been a subject of districtwide speculation for weeks. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The job of a popular Wyandanch assistant principal appeared to have been saved — at least temporarily — Monday when a layoff resolution failed on a vote of two district trustees in favor, two opposed and two abstaining.

The district, struggling to deal with a $1.1 million budget deficit, proposed laying off Noel Rios from Wyandanch Memorial High School as part of a broader effort to save money, while a local parent group is pushing to save Rios' job — partly, parents said, because he is the district's only Spanish-speaking administrator, and also because he has helped establish additional programs for the high school's entire student body, blacks and Hispanics alike.

Six members of the Wyandanch school board first met in closed-door executive session at 6 p.m., with a seventh trustee absent, and then in an open session later in the evening.

Board president James Crawford, one of those voting “no” in the vote that came toward the end of the meeting, acknowledged that the issue might be raised at a subsequent meeting, but added, “As of right now, it may not come up again.”

A district spokesman, Nathan Jackson, said other job reductions under consideration were mostly among clerical and maintenance workers, and that no specific positions had been earmarked. He said the district’s primary goal was to preserve existing classroom programs.

In contrast, Rios' job status had been a subject of districtwide speculation for weeks. A resolution introduced at a special board meeting on Oct. 15 called for termination effective Nov. 1. The resolution specified that the layoff would be based on seniority "upon the need to balance the budget."

Before the board went into executive session Monday evening, about two dozen parents and students appeared at the meeting with hand-drawn signs and prepared remarks calling for Rios’ continued employment and other actions to relieve families’ concerns.

"Mr. Rios was helping a lot in the community, and not just the Hispanic community," said Ana Melendez, 42, whose daughter is a ninth-grader at Wyandanch Memorial High.

Melendez added that district buses responsible for picking up her two children frequently run late — a situation that, she said, appeared related to the district's budget woes and a shortage of drivers.

Jackson told Newsday he doubted Wyandanch had experienced any chronic problems with late buses, but would check into Melendez's complaint.

Wyandanch's budget problems became widely recognized in January 2017, when the state comptroller's office reported both the Hempstead and Wyandanch systems faced "significant stress" — the most serious level of financial trouble listed by the state. A more recent report issued by the agency last January raised Wyandanch's financial status to "susceptible to fiscal stress," while removing Hempstead from the statewide list altogether.

Immediately following release of the 2017 report, Wyandanch Superintendent Mary Jones said her district had been forced to go over budget to buy portable classrooms to help accommodate immigrants arriving from Central America. More recently, the district also rented a vacant school in Dix Hills to house an overflow of children enrolled in preschool programs and kindergarten.

According to the latest state records, Wyandanch enrolls about 2,500 students, 50 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino and 48 percent black or African-American. Eighty-seven percent of the district's students are categorized as economically disadvantaged, compared with an average of 40 percent for Suffolk County.

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