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$1M loan squabble prompts Wyandanch Library effort to separate from school district

The Wyandanch Public Library is the only one

The Wyandanch Public Library is the only one on Long Island that has not reopened since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The Wyandanch Public Library is seeking to separate from the school district and become a special-district library.

Library board president Ghenya Grant said at a Jan. 25 meeting that separating from the district will provide stability and allow the library "to provide services in an expanded manner and not necessarily have whatever challenges the school district has to impact the library."

Wyandanch is the only library on Long Island that has not reopened since the pandemic began.

The board, which has hired attorney Edward Pichardo of Manhattan to assist with the separation process, voted 3-2 to change to a special legislative district library. Trustees Katrina Crawford and Jordan Thomas voted against it.

"We have to find a way to remain connected to our community and our school district," Crawford said in a statement. "The funds being wasted by the Wyandanch Public Library on the separation from the Wyandanch UFSD should be used instead on improvements that will help reopen the library."

Thomas declined to comment, but in a Facebook post wrote he is in favor of separating but voted no "as I firmly believe that the community’s opinion should be gathered prior to such a big decision as this."

Most of the 56 libraries in Suffolk are school district libraries because they are contiguous with the school district, said Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. There are four special-district libraries in the county, but none were ever school district libraries, he said.

Grant first publicly raised the notion of separating in July after the school district’s state monitor asked the library for documentation in support of an annual $1 million Tax Anticipation Note loan the district provides that the library pays back with interest. The loan is intended to tide the library over, as most town tax revenue does not come in until January and the library’s fiscal year begins in July.

District Superintendent Gina Talbert said in a statement that the school district sent the $1 million loan in September but that the library returned the principal last month. She declined to comment on the proposed separation.

The library would need to have legislation drafted and the change would have to be approved by the State Legislature and signed by the governor, Verbesey said. He said special-district libraries still have publicly elected trustees and budgets and adhere to state Department of Education regulations.

"It really doesn’t change anything," Verbesey said, adding that school district libraries are the preferred model in the state because they’re community based, versus being created through the State Legislature.

He noted that Cuomo has vetoed the last several attempts to create special-district libraries (Starr Library in Rhinebeck in 2014 and 2015 and Seymour Library in Brockport, near Rochester, in 2015).

The library could ask the town to directly give its tax money to them rather than through the district, Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said. But the town would not be able to provide a loan.

"If they’re going to do this, they’re going to have to do this on their own," Schaffer said last week.

Wyandanch’s state representatives — Sens. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and John Brooks (D-Seaford), and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights) — all said they would not draft or sponsor legislation until it’s clear that the community approves. Jean-Pierre said she feels the timing for the change is off.

"To want to do this at a time when you’re not even operational is disheartening," she said. "It shows that your priorities are not in line. The main priority should be how do we provide some sort of service."

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