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More LI districts consider closing elementary schools

Norwood Elementary School in Port Jefferson. (March 1,

Norwood Elementary School in Port Jefferson. (March 1, 2010) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

A combination of economic pressures and shrinking enrollments is prompting more Long Island districts to consider closing elementary schools to help cut taxes.

The latest potential target is the 296-student Norwood Avenue Elementary School in Port Jefferson Station. Officials of the area's Comsewogue district confirm that Norwood's youngsters could eventually be shifted to other schools, though they stress the issue is still under review with no decisions reached.

Last month, Mineola officials indicated they might close two elementary schools - one next year, the other in 2012. Lindenhurst has quietly discussed the possible closing of Edward W. Bower Elementary, though authorities there say no public debate is planned until next year at the earliest.

In Comsewogue about 120 parents and others jammed the board meeting last night to protest the cuts under consideration. Many parents wanted the district to pare administrative and teacher salaries before cutting student services - a sentiment that intensified as the board unanimously approved the appointments of a new assistant superintendent at a salary of $175,000 a year and new high school principal at $143,500.

"It's very hard to hear of salaries paid to administrators that are more than for almost anybody in this room," said Marie Lehner, the parent of two Norwood students.

Talk of closing elementary schools is part of the annual political gamesmanship that takes place, experts note, whenever enrollments drop and state aid dries up. Typically, local school officials respond with threats of cutting jobs and student services, in hopes of regaining aid and winning concessions from employee unions.

During the past five years, Island enrollments have dropped by 14,200 students, or 3 percent, to 457,160.

For next year, Gov. David A. Paterson has proposed reducing Long Island's aid by $172.6 million, including a little over $2 million in Comsewogue, or 2.71 percent of the district's budget. State lawmakers have predicted that most or all of the governor's cuts will be restored when a final state budget is adopted. April 1 is the official deadline for adoption, though it is often missed.

Comsewogue administrators confirmed Monday that they have sounded out local unions on possible contract concessions. The largest salary package goes to teachers who are due to receive raises next year of 3.2 percent, plus annual "step" increases averaging 1.5 to 2 percent, the district says.

Superintendent Shelley Saffer says school consolidations are under consideration, along with other cost-cutting moves such as eliminating teacher positions through retirement and allowing class sizes to rise at the district's J.F. Kennedy Middle School.

"The last thing we want to do is close down a building here," said William Hinrichs, the board president. "But on the other hand, some astronomical tax increase is not going to help you either."

Beth Dimino, president of the district's teacher union, declined to discuss talks over possible contract concessions, which she said were private.

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