Shoreham-Wading River mulling significant changes to district

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | SWR Superintendent Steven Cohen explains some of the changes the district is considering.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | SWR Superintendent Steven Cohen explains some of the changes the district is considering.

Briarcliff Elementary School as a kindergarten-only building. Online courses in the middle and high schools. Sorting students through the district’s elementary schools by grade, not location.

It may be the early planning stages, but these were some of the ideas the Shoreham-Wading River school board floated to the public at an open forum held at the board’s meeting Tuesday night.

The mid-summer discussion was designed to get parents and community members talking about ways to “preserve district programs” while also cutting back on costs and keeping the district under the state’s tax levy cap.

The plans, if approved by the board, would not be implemented until at least the 2015-16 school year.

Board members cautioned that districts across Long Island were at a “tipping point” and were having to make decisions about where to cut spending.

Because the district has roughly $9 million remaining in reserve funds and another $9 million due from prior un-awarded state aid, school officials said the district has another two or three years left before those funds run out and the district must begin cutting programs.

School board trustees said they hope to have a plan in place by then that would limit the damage.

“Any change requires sacrifice from the community,” said school board vice president John Zukowski “The community has to decide what it’s willing to sacrifice to keep our programs and whether or not it’s worth it.”

One of the proposals discussed at the forum was the “Princeton Plan,” a system that would divide students up between the district’s elementary schools by grade. All kindergarteners would attend Briarcliff, while all grades 1-3 would attend Miller Avenue school with all of grades 4 and 5 in Wading River Elementary.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said the plan would keep average class sizes the same, but would allow the district to eliminate clerical and teaching positions that would be deemed as excess after the switch.

However, some district parents at the meeting said they were wary of such a plan because of increased times on bus schedules and asked for the board to consider other options.

Mr. Cohen said the district had not yet determined how much would be saved under such a plan, adding that the idea was “not set in stone, or even ink.”

The superintendent also raised the idea of collaborating with local school districts to use online learning to save electives that might have otherwise been dropped due to lack of enrollment.

District officials said even if online courses were approved, teachers would be used in the classroom to re-enforce the material.

Discussions about the district’s plans, as well as a potential school bond to pay for repairs at the district’s buildings, will continue into the fall, school officials said.

“We have to keep in mind the melancholy reality that the changes are going to happen,” Mr. Cohen said. “Our choice is for us to be in control of that process or for us to be passive and be forced to do something that we’re not going to like.”

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