Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson Credit: Google Maps

In the not too distant future, the Port Jefferson School District's high school graduating class will fit in a single school bus. Or about eight minivans give or take a Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, or Chrysler Pacifica or two.

Take solace in the fact that we are not alone. Enrollments across Long Island are cratering. We are not unique, but our district’s solution is.

Sharing services with neighboring districts? Nope. Creating an outstanding academic program unique to the district that entices the best and brightest to move to Port Jefferson? Not mentioned. Haven’t read or been told a thing about it. 

Port Jefferson’s solution? A $1.9 million turf athletic field that's up for a districtwide vote on Dec. 12.

“Build it and they will come!” they say. The school-age and childbearing masses will come running to the siren song of a referee’s whistle from a plastic and rubber plot, they assure, and will move here en masse. The ringing bell of academia, small class sizes, and low taxes have no such appeal.

"There’s proof!" opined a member of the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education, whose employer is a district with a magic enrollment-enhancing turf field. Folks are moving to that district for athletics and turf, she said. 

But don’t take my word for it, the video in living color is on the district website.

“We need this turf!” people say, because of the terrible condition of our high school’s grass athletic field. Our athletes, they assert, are at a disadvantage. Yet, no one can remember the last time the existing field was refurbished. Go figure. 

But wait, there’s more. Artificial turf is the gift that keeps giving. 

The turf, they say, will cost “only cents-per-day” over a 15-year bond payback. It’s the stereotypical pinkie-ringed, used-car salesman’s “look how I can get you into this dream for only dollars per month” distraction from the total cost and ongoing overhead. Undercoating not included.

The nearly $2 million turf field, the district plainly admits after prodding, requires refurbishing possibly after only eight years and every dozen or so years thereafter (their best guess) at an estimated $500,000 to $800,000 per redo in today’s dollars. Inflation be damned.

The magical, enrollment-enhancing turf, it seems, loses its mystical powers even before being fully paid for. And the recurring high-dollar maintenance costs go on forever. 

The math just doesn’t work for me. 

Or maybe it’s that new Common Core stuff and I just don’t get it. 


This guest essay reflects the views of Drew Biondo, a resident of the Port Jefferson School District.

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