Many of Long Island's 124 school districts — especially those with smaller enrollments — are squeezed by rising costs of maintaining programs and faculty, the expense of upgrades of technology and aging facilities, and limitations on proposed budget increases from the state-imposed property-tax cap.
Over the years, proposals have been made for mergers or consolidations as one way to address financial concerns, though few have been approved by districts' voters.
Newsday asked for the perspectives of students who have appeared in the weekly "Way to Go!" section in 2014. Here is a sampling of their responses.
Angela Wee, senior, Syosset High School
"The possible reorganization and merging of public school districts is a widely acknowledged issue for many parents, teachers and school boards. Many Long Island residents are discontented with rising school taxes, but many others believe having an overwhelming number of individual school systems is sustainable. Although the consolidation of districts would relieve taxes, save money and unify communities, I do not support the idea of merging school districts. Of course, it would depend on the specifics of each school district and how merging would change them, but if there is a dramatic increase in student-to-teacher ratio, there will be a dramatic decrease of quality in education.
"I believe high-quality education is an essential factor in many students' futures. Unemployment rates will also rise because teachers will be cut. Merging school districts and high student enrollment may also potentially increase the competition between students in that district, making college processes, sports and activities harder and more intense. Also, the idea that some students will have to travel to another town in order to attend school may be inconvenient and unpleasing to parents. Finally, many towns may lose their communal identities by merging. I believe it is more important to have a larger range of choice in school districts."
James Phillips, sophomore, Malverne High School
"I'm for merging school systems, as long as curricula are handled locally rather than nationally. Merging would help level the educational playing field, giving all students the equal opportunity to contribute to society. In my opinion, being against merging school systems somewhat selfish."
Peter Levchuck, senior, Chaminade High School, Mineola
"I support district mergers and the reorganization of school districts on Long Island. The logistics behind a consolidation of surrounding school districts would allow for budgets to be passed easier, and it would also allow for students to have more opportunities within the school district.
"When a small district is proposing a budget and it doesn't pass, the administration then struggles to find a median between what is beneficial to the district as well as the voters. This, however, is a very tough median to find when small districts cannot collect enough money through their budgets. When districts merge, however, both benefit. The newly formed district will be able to accept tax dollars from a larger group of voters, which would allow for a lower amount for taxpayers to have to put toward the school district. With a higher number of citizens paying for the schools, the administration can ask for more money, and in return, provide more opportunities through various programs, including sports and the arts, for their students."
David Jaslow, senior, Roslyn High School
"I believe that district mergers are well-intended and are a potentially good budgetary decision. However, the proposed economic benefit is usually inflated and does not outweigh the educational harms that are brought upon each student. As a senior in high school, I understand the importance of living in close proximity to my school. Most students spend a majority of their time after school at sports and clubs and increasing commutation time would place an unnecessary burden on them.
"Additionally, these merged schools have a significantly larger student body. Studies have shown that larger student populations can have a negative effect on students' education. I also believe that the communities that lose their schools ultimately also lose a large piece of their identities, as our schools make each and every community different. Although they can still support the new merged school, it cannot replace the pride many towns take in supporting their own sports teams, clubs and other schoolwide events. To me, quality of education and community vitality far outweigh economic incentives."
Jake Rosenblum, junior, Massapequa High School
"It is most important to maintain existing successful school programs and high achievement in our public educational system. I believe that this can only occur by merging school districts and reorganization across Long Island. By consolidating, smaller school districts could share resources and administrative costs as well as support services, including janitorial and transportation. This would ultimately lead to more efficiency and become quite cost-effective.
"We have to provide more reassurance to parents who fear the change. Some fears could include potential for longer commutes to school, larger class sizes or loss of a beloved school team. We have to put a plan in place that addresses these and other issues to the satisfaction of parents as well as students.
"I believe that if tax incentives were offered to homeowners in school districts that save money as a result of school mergers, there would be less resistance to consolidation. If we begin on a small scale and demonstrate the efficiency of the merger and reorganization of some school districts on Long Island, many resistant individuals may see that sometimes change is good."
Tazim Merchant, senior, Locust Valley High School
"I would argue that a merger can be beneficial, though each situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Residents considering a merger should weigh tax implications, possible long-term cost savings and changes in academic opportunities and programs. However, I believe that individuals should also take into account the benefit of increased diversity, a characteristic coveted by colleges and businesses alike.
"Harvard University President Drew Faust said, 'Bringing together students from different backgrounds and walks of life challenges students to think in different ways about themselves, their beliefs, and the world into which they will graduate.' Individuals from other school districts bring varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds and new perspectives, depending on the context of the merger. In the short term, adjusting to such new perspectives may be difficult, especially if residents feel their sense of community is threatened. However, in the long term, a new, perhaps more pluralistic, community can emerge. I also believe that residents should take into account not only the potential advantages and disadvantages to themselves, but also the long-term benefits for the other district involved in the merger; the impact to the entire society is relevant to residents in both districts."
Frederick Parola, freshman, Wantagh High School
"Many people believe that school districts should be consolidated. I disagree. Consolidation of schools means a loss of control for school districts. If a school district with 3,200 students merges with a district of 1,700 students, the school with 3,200 would most likely have the most control of the school board. This would be a disadvantage for the smaller district and its students.
"A second issue is the hard transition for kids being merged. Students already worry about moving from elementary to middle school and then to high school. Consolidation would force students to move to new schools, perhaps a great distance away and with new students they don't know. Students would have less of a chance of being with the friends they have known for years from their old school.
"An additional reason I am against consolidation is the loss of identity. In my school, I know most of the teachers and administrators. If I were to move to a new school, those teachers may no longer be in the new combined school. In my opinion, consolidating schools would only create problems for everyone in a school district."
Ryan Leone, senior, Sachem High School East, Farmingville
"Ensuring that the younger generations are educated and prepared for the future is of paramount importance to our ever-changing society. For communities to provide students with the resources they need to develop life skills and enjoy their youth, it is critical that secondary schools offer a wide range of classes, extracurricular opportunities and extra-help options. Merging smaller school districts into singular districts offers these opportunities by maximizing funds due to economies of scale, enabling students to engage in sports, drama clubs, music programs and advanced courses that may not be affordably available in smaller schools.
"Creating more opportunities for students will help them keep busy, develop better time-management skills, and ultimately increase their chances of being admitted to competitive colleges. While higher taxes and transportation costs may be viewed negatively by those opposed to merging, these minor sacrifices of income will be exponentially beneficial to students who would otherwise miss out on a variety of experiences in smaller, struggling districts. Taxes raised gradually over a period of time to support merging would repay themselves in the end, for the money would be serving the leaders of our future — students who deserve to thrive in our very own communities."
Darryl Robinson, senior, Northport High School
"The question of whether to merge school districts is a difficult one to answer. On one hand, merging school districts can potentially result in a large tax savings for the community by reducing costs. On the other hand, the cost savings are going to come from eliminating teachers and administrative positions, which is not necessarily a positive thing for the student body.
"The merger of school districts really has to be looked at on a district-by-district basis to determine whether the positives will outweigh the negatives. Regarding my own district, I know there is a tremendous sense of community and pride within the school-sponsored programs, such as athletic teams and the marching band, which may be lost if we were to merge with another district. For a district merger to be successful, it would have to be beneficial to both districts involved."
Kyle Engblom, sophomore, East Islip High School
"As a high school student, I feel everyone has a right to an equal educational opportunity. I am in favor of merging districts that have small enrollments and where the students do not have the same opportunities that other districts can provide.
"However, my concerns would be the longer travel time for those students who need to move to another district. In addition, my thoughts would be how many more students would the district try to fit into a classroom. I am in a wheelchair and my biggest concern would be if the classrooms were to be any larger with more students, it would be very difficult for me to get around."
Brandon Epstein, junior, Half Hollow Hills High School West, Dix Hills
"Consolidation is an old concept — there have been government initiatives for consolidation of educational resources going back several decades. These initiatives are usually proposed by legislators, such as the governor, not personally affected by such actions. This is just another example of government trying to micromanage our lives.
"Consolidation appears to make sense for financial reasons. Duplication of services will be reduced, management centralized, and a reduction in overall educational costs. However, such actions are socialistic in nature, and not without consequence.
"From a financial perspective, there will be districts with little taxable wealth that will benefit from an infusion of funds, not from state support but rather on the backs of neighboring districts with greater taxable wealth who will see their school taxes increase. This is nothing more than another form of income redistribution.
"The other issue is the loss of community. School districts are managed by the very members of the communities that they serve. The uniqueness of each community is reflected within its school district. With consolidation, sense of community will be lost. Rather than personally knowing the school board officials, management will be outsourced to an impersonal, central unit with no ownership in a particular community. This will lead to increased frustration within the individual communities."
Ryan Taphouse, senior, William Floyd High School, Mastic Beach
"The reorganizations of schools and school districts, in my opinion, would negatively affect thousands of students. This will affect students across Long Island because redrawing the borders for school districts could send students who are going to graduate their next school year — the students who have grown in their school — to a completely new school with new students and teachers. If districts merge, I believe the students should be grandfathered into the merge — meaning incoming kindergartners are affected, but not current students — to be sure we do not negatively affect the lives of students.
"I do agree that the schools need to reorganize and redistrict, but not with the current students. Mergers may provide schools with more money in their budget and more money to provide more things for their students, but I feel as if it would be more effective to not change students' schools while they are still attending that school because of the effects this will have on students.
To conclude, I believe that the reorganizations of schools and school districts will not help the current students but will help the future students of these schools."
Billy Reece, senior, Hauppauge High School
"While I understand where the debate lies in the prospect of schools merging, I would be lying if I stated that this is a topic that has been very explicit in my large school. I can only view the situation from a student standpoint, and I believe that given the opportunity of smaller districts merging with larger districts, there can only be positive outcomes for the students involved. Those coming from the smaller schools will be given a more diverse offering of extracurricular activities, from arts to intramural sports, which can only enhance their school experience, intelligence and interests. Meanwhile, those in the larger schools will benefit with an influx of stronger diversity as new ideas and voices enter the student body.
"Of course, all benefits come with a cost, but when it is the education and future of our young people that is on the line, why should the cost be a prohibitive factor?"