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Parents fight to save Mills Pond Elementary

More than a month before Smithtown school officials decide whether to shutter a building, parents of elementary students in St. James are campaigning to save their school.

The Smithtown district says it must cut expenses, but parents say losing Mills Pond Elementary would hurt the school's 500 students by forcing them to change schools.

A citizens advisory committee, formed earlier this year to recommend which of Smithtown's 14 schools to close next September, has narrowed its search to Mills Pond, in St. James, and Nesconset Elementary School, both of which have a diminishing pool of students. The committee, which meets at 7 Thursday night, is expected to recommend next month which school to close. The school board will ultimately decide.

Students at the closed school would attend other schools in the district.

Dozens of Mills Pond parents attended a recent school board meeting, dressed in the school's colors -- red and white -- and pleaded with officials to keep the school open. "I cannot honestly come up with a good reason why this must be done," said Noelle Ciminiello, whose three children attend Mills Pond. "The entire community is going to be collateral damage when you do this."

Mills Pond closed in 1982 due to budget cuts and reopened in 2002. PTA president Kerry DeJesus said residents raised money to rebuild the playground when the school reopened, and closing the school again would be "heartbreaking." "It truly is a family that shouldn't be broken up."

Closing a school could save $500,000 a year, district officials say. Enrollment, meanwhile, is forecast to plummet in the next decade. "New families aren't moving in, people aren't selling their homes," said John Nolan, the district's director of technology and instructional services, who co-chairs the advisory committee with curriculum director Jennifer Bradshaw. "We're not getting those young families." An expected surge of students never materialized because a Nesconset housing development was not completed, making it "more logical for us to close a school on the east side of town," Bradshaw said.

While Mills Pond parents are fighting the possible closure, a similar effort by Nesconset parents is unlikely, said Mark Slawinski, who has two children in that school. "The idea is saving on some teachers and administrators," he said. "I know that is horrible to say, but it is necessary."

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