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Lawrence board votes to close school in Woodmere

The parents who packed the auditorium for the Lawrence board of education came to hear the decision on one controversial and long-awaited agenda item: which elementary school would be closed.

Board members on Tuesday breezed through more mundane decisions, voting unanimously on the treasurer's report and the retirement of a high school cleaner, while parents nervously eyed copies of the agenda as the votes quickly approached item VI, "Adoption of Consolidation Option."

Suddenly, board president Murray Forman called for a vote on closing Number Six Elementary, which was unanimous, and that was it.

No board members provided any explanation for why they opted to close that elementary school in Woodmere instead of the Number Four or Number Five schools. Pressed after the meeting, Forman wouldn't give a single reason: "I don't want to get into the comparison of the various options," he said. "It's an emotional issue."

Parents and teachers said the lack of explanation just adds to their distrust of a board made up mostly of parents who educate their children in private, religious schools.

"Regardless of what school is closed, people just want to know why that school?" asked Lori Skonberg, fifth-grade teacher at Number Six. "They passed it like saying, 'Can I have another cup of coffee?' "

Penny Schuster, president of the PTA council, said she wanted to hear concrete reasons for closing the newest and largest elementary building, which has athletic fields used by the adjacent high school. "How is that you would be able to put trust in a group of people who so blatantly chose the wrong building?"

District officials have said closing a school is necessary because of dwindling enrollment in a community that has seen a demographic shift over the past two decades, with an influx of Orthodox Jews who don't send their children to public schools.

Board member Asher Mansdorf said he struggled with the decision, and ultimately based it on the community connections of the schools. Number Five, he said, has a strong attachment to its Cedarhurst community, while Number Four is in Inwood, home to working-class families who rely on the pre-kindergarten program housed there.

But Pamela Greenbaum, a former board member, said there was discussion about closing Number Six three years ago, which she said shows trustees had made up their minds to close that school long before Tuesday's meeting.

Mansdorf denied any decisions were made before the meeting.

"I think this board has a history of a lack of transparency," said Eustace Thompson, a professor of education and leadership at Hofstra University. "I think they really have demonstrated a sort of disrespect for the district."


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