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Two reports find housing, school segregation on Long Island

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Two reports released Friday, one finding a link between housing and school segregation, the other focusing on racial and economic disparities in revenue and expenditures among school districts, were the catalysts for a forum on educational inequities on Long Island.

"Like most regions of the country, Long Island is becoming much more diverse racially, and that change is happening even more rapidly in the student population. But don't cheer because that doesn't mean that we are less segregated," Elaine Gross, president of ERASE Racism, a Syosset-based civil rights group, said during the forum she hosted.

Gross told about 55 educators at the gathering, held in an auditorium at Newsday's Melville headquarters, that the subject matter was "challenging for many people . . . and they will run in the opposite direction."

Nevertheless, Gross said ERASE Racism's goal was to educate the public about the issue through research -- ERASE Racism and the Long Island Index presented separate reports Friday -- as the group sought to get more people involved in trying to resolve what it sees as inequities.

ERASE Racism's report concluded, "Long Island is more segregated by race than by income."

Among its highlights:

Blacks on Long Island at all income levels "are highly segregated in areas with relatively high levels of poverty when compared to white residents at the same income levels."

The report found 91 percent of black and Latino students attend high-need school districts that have fewer financial resources.

Deborah Wortham, Roosevelt schools superintendent for the past 11/2 years, a forum panelist, told the audience, "I can't wait for the cavalry."

In an inspirational talk that often brought applause and moved at least one spectator to tears, Wortham said she rejected the theory that student achievement rested on "innate ability." She said she was focused on raising students' confidence level, starting each day delivering an uplifting message to students.

"If you take away confidence, you take away an opportunity to soar," Wortham said, adding the district has seen a large decline in disciplinary referrals and a higher promotions percentage.

Another panelist, Rockville Centre schools Superintendent William Johnson, said it was critical that all students be challenged to excel, as he explained his district's success in placing the district's diverse student body into the same challenging classes.

The Long Island Index report was produced by Hofstra University professors William Mangino and Marc Silver. It explored Long Island's public school districts' revenue and expenditures, evaluating the districts from 2003 through 2012. The Index, which conducts research on Island issues, is a project of the nonprofit Rauch Foundation.

The report found that:

The poorest districts were the hardest hit by the recession, which saw average per-pupil spending decrease by $1,100 between 2009 and 2011.

The gap in financial resources between the Island's "most privileged students and its most vulnerable students widened." In 2003, the gap in per-pupil expenditures was $2,600 (in 2013 dollars) and in 2012, it was $6,000.

Ultimately, Silver told the educators, "We're asking high-poverty districts to do more with the most at-risk students with fewer and fewer resources."

"We all know this," Silver said mentioning prior research. "The real question is why aren't we doing something about it?"

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