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Patchogue-Medford seniors win battle with school board

Eight Patchogue-Medford High School seniors pulled from BOCES job-training courses in a cost-cutting move last week won reprieves last night when the school board voted unanimously to return them to training, and to add a few classmates as well.

At least five to 10 additional 12th-graders who qualified for BOCES training last spring, but were not allowed to enroll, now are expected to be included under the board's new policy. The extra cost of BOCES tuition, estimated at $140,000-$220,000, will probably come from surplus budget funds, board leaders said last night.

A standing room only audience of parents, students and teachers applauded the vote.

"I couldn't be happier," said one leader of the parent lobbying effort, Suzanne LoGiudice of Medford. Her daughter, Vienna, can return to her pharmacy technician classes.

"Now I can actually do everything I wanted to do," said Ariel LaBounty, 17. She had passed an exam qualifying her for BOCES training as a licensed practical nurse last spring, and will now also be allowed to enroll. LaBounty said she hopes to use her nurse's earnings next year to help pay for more advanced training at Suffolk County Community College.

On Friday, Patchogue-Medford officials canceled tuition payments for the original eight teens, who were training at a regional center in Bellport run by the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services. The number of district students enrolled at the center has dropped by nearly 100 since last year due to the district's cost cuts.

Students and parents contended the removals, ordered by Superintendent Michael Mostow, were unfair, especially since the teens had spent nearly three weeks in their job courses. Some also noted that the students had received permission from high school administrators to attend BOCES classes, and that many had completed the bulk of their academic requirements as 11th-graders so they could concentrate on career training this year.

All eight students had been spending half of each day at the Brookhaven Technical Center in Bellport, and the other half at their local high school. Many voiced fear they would have to spend much of the remaining school year in study halls if forced to give up BOCES courses.

Last night's 7-0 vote overturned Mostow's decision.

Mostow had held he was simply following the board's policy - a point disputed by some board members.

Patchogue-Medford has struggled to pare costs in occupational training and other areas since 2006, when the district revealed that a former administration had run up a budget deficit. A state audit completed the following year pegged the deficit at $6.4 million, out of a total budget of $139.7 million.

Last spring, Patchogue-Medford's board decided not to enroll new students in BOCES job courses, but simply to let those already enrolled in two-year programs complete their work. The move saved the district an estimated $1 million.

The chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Gary Bixhorn, said last night that every effort would be made to take in as many Patchogue-Medford seniors who wanted to sign up. "We're pleased the district has made this decision," he said.

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