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Sachem school board OKs $3.4 million transfer to save special education programs

Sachem High School North, 212 Smith Rd., Lake

Sachem High School North, 212 Smith Rd., Lake Ronkonkoma. (May 4, 2011) Credit: Kaitlynn Mannino

The Sachem school board has approved a fund transfer of $3.4 million, in part to save its special education programs, which face a $3 million shortfall.

At a work session Wednesday night, the board voted unanimously to approve a measure reallocating funds from other district services. The board will leave funding for a handful of student services, including athletic programs and field trips, intact for now.

The decision followed several hours of discussion and debate at the district building in Lake Ronkonkoma.

The meeting began with a presentation from Sue Tuttle, the district's student services coordinator, who said restrictions on the roster of special education and supplementary programs weren't possible.

"For many school districts, they don't have the programs and resources we do, so they have to send [students] out," she said.

Some programs include children from other districts, and most are state-mandated offerings.

Board members struggled to find other ways to cut costs, asking Tuttle about other steps that could save money, such as collaborating with other districts, shortening days or possibly cutting positions.

"I'm not trying to take away services from the students," board member Dorothy Roberts said. "We really are in a very, very difficult situation financially."

The Sachem school district, one of the biggest suburban systems in the state, is struggling to rebound after several years of financial hardship. In the 2014-15 school year, the district had 13,834 students.

The district ended the last school year with $16,577 in its bank account, Bruce Singer, associate superintendent for business, told district officials and about 60 people at the meeting.

"We were that close to not being able to pay our bills," he said.

Singer added that the district's state funding hasn't been fully restored since cuts were made during the 2008 recession. More cuts will probably be recommended as the board prepares its budget for the next school year, he said.

Stephanie Volpe, a Holbrook resident and mother of two children in the district, said she's frustrated with the board's pace addressing financial problems.

"It's a little late that we're discussing issues we saw coming -- now we're desperate," said Volpe, 44. "It's infuriating as a parent."

In May, voters approved a budget of more than $296 million, a 0.64 percent increase.

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