Letter to the Editor: BOE Decision to Close 2 Schools Made in Haste

Board should have exhausted all options before deciding to close two schools, writes a concerned West Islip parent.

This week is Staff Appreciation Week at Westbrook Elementary School, and it holds special meaning now that the school will be closing its doors forever come June. The closing of Westbrook brings mixed feelings. Westbrook is a wonderful school with many wonderful people in it. It holds many great teachers, and a superb support staff. The principal is extraordinary and will be sorely missed by those of us not attending Oquenock with him next year. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to experience the Westbrook community and my children have thoroughly enjoyed their time in attendance there.

While the closing of Westbrook brings sadness because of the fond memories and sentiments, it also brings anger and disappointment. The closing of schools is always hard on any community, but our particular . A fair redistricting process is tricky enough as it is, but add to it the fact that there is an imbalance in the number of students on the “north” side and the “south” side, and it becomes even trickier. Based on the , the schools remaining open on the north side do not have enough classrooms to support the number of north side students. Would there have been enough room if the Board had chosen to keep the bigger school open instead of the smaller one as the Superintendent had recommended? Only those people with access to the redistricting computer program would know the answer to that one. But in any case, the Board’s decision has lead to Westbrook being split three different ways. On the south side, essentially everyone going to Kirdahy has been moved over to Bayview together. With the exception of one small section being bumped over to Bellew, Bayview students have essentially stayed where they are, as has everyone in Bellew, Manetuck and Oquenock as well. But Westbrook’s students have been separated among three different schools, with one of the three sections slotted to attend a different middle school as well. This seems to be anything but fair to those of us here at Westbrook. Our children have taken the brunt of the change on a much larger scale than any of the other elementary schools.

The biggest question that still lingers in my mind is whether the closing of two elementary schools was really a necessity in the first place. I am aware that our schools are not currently filled to capacity, but if the consolidation was only able to be accomplished by splitting one of our schools three ways, then perhaps the time is not yet right to eliminate two schools at once. The amount of money that was was in reality only half of what we believed it to be. Yet the decision to close two schools was largely dependent on that belief. I think it would have been prudent for the Board to have given this decision another look in light of the changed financial situation.

One of the arguments for the importance of music and art in our school programming is that these things keep otherwise uninterested students engaged and give them a reason to look forward to coming to school. I would argue that being in the same school as your friends is no less important and has the same positive impact on our children’s overall educational experience. Friendships can be maintained outside of school, but the bonds of friends sharing the similar experience of being in the same school together with the same classes, teachers, fellow students, etc. is a different kind of bond, and these are the kind that will be broken. Many children will now be separated from the friends that they have been with from kindergarten and in some cases not meet back up with them again until high school. This has the potential to negatively impact quite a number of students. I think that is very unfortunate and should have been given much more consideration in this redistricting process. The redistrict was also promised to make more geographical sense than the current boundaries. But the three-way split of Westbrook has left one section as far up as Sunrise Highway now attending south side schools while their neighbors across the street on Higbie Lane remain on the north side. That does not make geographical sense to me. It was additionally promised that the would remain basically the same, which is also not entirely true, especially on the north side.

I believe that the decision to close two elementary schools was made in haste before all other options were exhausted, and I am deeply disappointed in those on the Board that have allowed this to happen. And because the Board chose not to allow our voices to be heard on this matter by community vote, the responsibility for the outcome of this decision rests solely on the Board alone. While I am confident that the transitions ahead will be made less difficult because of the welcoming attitude of those in the schools with new incoming students, I am no longer confident in this Board’s ability to make sound decisions that are in the best interest of this community.

Serena Leonard

Rich May 14, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Just a little more misinformation by the same BOE team that mislead us about the true amount of the budget deficit and the money that the district never received because the paperwork was never submitted. We desperately need someone new on the BOE to be honest with the community about what is really going on behind the closed doors. No more collusion, no more back room deals, we need honest representation and full transparency. Vote Montes and Zotto for honest representation.
Jake J. May 14, 2012 at 05:24 PM
No, he didn't. All seven had a hand in closing two elementary schools, and I will remember that when I go into the voting booth tomorrow, and next year, and the year after that.
Jake J. May 14, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Rich, dude, you're killing me! Zotto voted to close two ES just like Gellar did. Zotto voted to close Westbrook just like Gellar did. Zotto did not call for a community vote, did not call for another look at the decision when the financial picture changed, did not call for full transparency, just like Gellar didn't. Zotto was behind those same closed doors with Gellar. What did he tell you that Gellar didn't? Zotto may have done a lot in the way of drug awareness for this community, but except for the occasional nay vote here and there, what has he really done as a sitting board member? If you have reasons to vote for the guy, fine, but please stop parading him around as the "vote for change" because he is not!!
Jake J. May 14, 2012 at 05:34 PM
The bs that flows from this BOE never ceases to amaze!
Rich May 14, 2012 at 05:40 PM
No name calling needed. If you don't agree with two ES closing, redistricting hundreds of our youngest children, don't believe that these young children should be ripped from the security of their friends and the only school the have ever lnown, don't like the canceled Dance Program, dislike the cuts to BOCES, feel that the Special Ed Program should have remained at Westbrook, don't like being mislead about the budget deficit, don't like loosing truck loads of money for the distinct because they "forgot" file the paperwork... Then vote for Montes and Zotto
Jake J. May 14, 2012 at 05:50 PM
No, I don't agree with all those things, which is why I'm voting for Montes and O'Connor!
Lauren Paccione May 14, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Jake is right. Rich....if you're calling for change......for "honest representation and full transparency" how can you seriously back Zotto? I have read a lot of posts here in the last few months. You always seemed to believe that closing two ES buildings was a bad decision, and especially Westbrook( the bigger building) I don't understand why you would want any of the current Board members reelected. This is the communities' opportunity for change....so change whatever you can while you can! It (hopefully) cant get any worse than it is now.
Lauren Paccione May 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Again......is Zotto somehow exempt from blame in all this? FYI.....anyone who has children who play soccer, lacrosse, or football in West Islip should thank Kevin OConnor for making the fields safer for your families. Kevin is responsible for the defibrillators on most of our community fields, and for making sure we have CPR certified coaches in WI.
Rich May 14, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I believe that Zotto is an honest man who did the best that he could with the present cast of characters. He spoke independently at times but he went with the group many times also. I think with a couple of new members on the BOE, Zotto may be able to do a lot more good things for our district.
wiseol'owl May 14, 2012 at 07:32 PM
@ Lauren, the community by the regards you are setting for Mr. O'Connor should also be greatful to Mr. Zotto. Thanks to his drug awareness programs he is creating a safer enviroment in our community. Most parents would not even be aware of the 'legal herbs' that are sold in the gas stations that many of the communities youths have purchased as 'drug alternatives'. Mr. Zotto is an indivdual who has displayed himself to care very much for the youth in the community and while he did vote to close Westbrook don't forget all the 'shadows' that linger over the way the entire process was conducted. (there is also obviously no knowing how Mr. O'connor would have been forced to vote in Mr. Zotto's shoes). I think given that on occassion Mr. Zotto has spoken out of turn and opposed the board decisions;also taking into consideration his youth awareness program- Mr. Zotto is still a good fit for the board. He deserves to be on the board without Mr. Gellar and hopefully next year Mrs. LaRosa, then the community can have a better view of what direction he really wants to see the district take.
Lauren Paccione May 14, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Wise.....First I have learned a lot from your posts. I respect your comments and opinions. Don't look too much into it. I simply stated my surprise at Rich's support for Zotto after reading his opinions for many months. I found it surprising. I do know Kevin, and I am proud to have been involved with the AED program. Thanks to him WISC has close to 100 coaches certified in CPR. I also commend Zotto for his work with drug awareness. As far as the issues currently facing our school disctrict, I do blame the entire BOE for not managing finances better, for not looking beyond this year, and for some who have blatanly mislead and disrepected this community. Those are simply my opinions. And if O'Connor had voted to close the bigger building because of "security concerns", I would make the same statements about him now.
Anna May 15, 2012 at 01:28 AM
I think we can all agree that both Mr. Zotto and Mr. O'Connor are fine, upstanding citizens. I see two differences. The first is that because Mr. Zotto is already a part of the current Board and the decisions that have been made, he now has a slightly tarnished track record, whereas Mr. O'Connor is still a clean slate. Plus I cannot for the life of me understand his reason of "security concerns" for why he voted to close Westbrook. I admire and respect Mr. Zotto's background in that area, but I think that Mr. O'Connor brings a better suited skill set to the table for the role of the Board of Ed. And two, because of Mr. Zotto's employment with the police department, he is a union member, whereas (to the best of my knowledge) Mr. O'Connor is not. Although I am in favor of the existence of unions and the purpose they serve, the only way to achieve balance is to have a non-union member negotiating on the other side. Therefore, it would be in the best interest of the taxpayers to have non-union representation on the Board. It is all about voting for who you choose to represent your interests, especially since once the big decisions are being made, those representatives are the only ones who get a say in the matter.
Rich May 15, 2012 at 02:23 AM
Unfortunately there seems to be s little more to the story. Is Mr. O'Connor linked to Gellar and Larosa? Why was his connection to the West Islip Summit removed from Mr. O'Connor's Bio on the Patch shortly after it was put up? Was it an error or is it the link?
Winston Smith May 15, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Mr. Zotto gets my vote. Thank you for all you do!
Larry May 15, 2012 at 11:08 AM
wiseol'owl May 15, 2012 at 11:47 AM
It's finally here Super Tuesday! No matter who wins the seats for the board this is what the process is about The Community having a voice in the direction of education in West Islip--so get out and VOTE!!! Cause as we've seen once the board is elected it is their voices that control ALL the decisions concerning West Islip''s School so make TODAY COUNT!!!!!
Jake J. May 15, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Now you're REALLY killing me, Rich! Is he linked? Do you not even know?? But this is the basis for your decision?? I've got news for you, Mrs. LaRosa has a hand in just about every group in this town, so if you're criteria for a candidate is that they can't be "linked" to her by just being a part of something she's a part of, that would be an awfully small candidate pool. Even Zotto is "linked" - they sit on the same BOE! I just wish I could get back all the time spent reading your posts for the last six months, ranting and raving about the injustice of it all, only to walk into that booth today and hand one of the incumbents your vote. Your vote is your only power, and you are giving it right back to them because O'Connor MIGHT be "linked". If I was O'Connor, I would try to downplay my involvement in the summit too, for just this reason. People just assuming you are now "linked" and so throwing your vote away on the other guy. I thought you were a man of conviction. No way I could in all good conscience after everything that transpired, give my vote to an incumbent. Not voting at all makes more of a statement than giving it to Zotto just because you're scared of LaRosa. Your vote is your only power, Rich. Weild it wisely.
Lauren Paccione May 15, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Jake....I felt the same for about five seconds when I read that last night. But then I realized all the people I know involved in WI summit and PAWS, etc that are involved like larosa and geller, but do not like or either of support them. And when all is said and done I just can't vote for an incumbent. It may not turn out better but at least I can use the power of my vote. Let's hope for the best!!
Wendy Regan May 15, 2012 at 01:35 PM
@Jake J. - Your phrase "Your vote is your only power" is one of the most powerful and truthful posts on this site. Thank you.
Anthony ragazzi May 15, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Agreed! W
Anthony ragazzi May 15, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Agreed, I voted for Zotto! O'connor being sneaky and pulling his connection to the West Islip Summit off the boards, what does that tell you? Some of you enjoy punishment and games you want the same back door deals and dont want transparency,more lies,interesting. Zotto being the only naysayer on the Board since Bloom had been voted out, im sure has been, difficult . Zotto has reached above and beyond and spoken out for our community in many ways. Ask yourself about all the knuckle heads on the current Board that sat there year after year after year and extended contracts, approved Simons contract so he can cash out on our dime at the end of the day when we're economically strapped Zotto voted that down against all others. Zotto has spoken up and been outspoken and that's what we need a voice for us who is willing to listen and with three more years we will have that and i sense a greater degree . Why don't you think Zotto is connected to these outside Boards, fact is he wanted to "remain independant" from certain persons and organizations- why?. These few on here Rich are in denial, lets hope it's not the majority. Good Luck Mike ! Thank you either way my friend!
Rich May 15, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Jake, Wendy, and Lauren, all things being equal I would love to think the O'Connor is truly an independent but I unfortunately don't believe that. I feel that both Gellar and Larossa support him over Zotto because Zotto refused to rubber stamp all their back room deals. Tonight I hope we can remove Gellar for what he and Larosa have done to our ES and our children. Hopefully then next year we can remove Larosa before she can do anymore damage. So tonight I vote for Zotto for speaking out against the BOE majority when he could, hopefully he will do it more often during his next 3 years. I will also be voting for Montes. What Gellar did to our ES children was clearly wrong and it will certainly be remembered as sad day for education in West Islip.
Jake J. May 15, 2012 at 08:59 PM
All things being equal, what we know to be fact is that regardless of what he might have stood against in the past, Zotto voted same as Gellar on everything you've been harping on all these last few months. Whether he felt pressured, or outnumbered, or whatever, he still voted same as Gellar and now the damage is done. He did not stand up for the kids in this instance. What we also know to be fact is that WI Summit appeared on O'Connor's bio on Patch, then disappeared. What that really means is anybody's guess. It could mean he is with them, or it could mean that he wants to make it clear that he is not with them. Or it could have been a completely meaningless computer glitch. But It is also a fact that it appears on his regular printed bio, so in any case he is not "hiding" it. Have you ever seen them socializing together? Has O'Connor ever voiced his support for them at any time for anything? Have you asked anyone that actually knows him what the deal is? Have you put any real thought into this at all? It just blows my mind that you would do a complete turnaround on everything you believe in, knowing for a fact that Zotto was one of the seven responsible, and vote for Zotto over O'Connor on the sole grounds that the words "Wi Summit" disappeared on Patch. Gellar did not do this damage alone, and that is the fact that cannot be denied.
Rich May 15, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Probably just another coincidence, but when you vote, Gellar and O'Connor are on line "A" and Montes and Zotto are on line "B".
wiseol'owl May 15, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Thank you to the school district for inviting the entire town to the highschool and choosing to keep only one entrance on Lions Path open. It made coming and going to vote such a convenience!! That's solid BOE planning for ya!!
Renee C May 16, 2012 at 12:24 AM
All three entrances were open just now.
Renee C May 16, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Uh Oh Rich, I think you're onto something! I always knew alphabetical order was a consipracy!
Rich May 16, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Looks like a really good turnout.
Gerry May 16, 2012 at 12:58 AM
In the past haven't the incumbents gone on the top row and the challengers underneath?
WI Resident May 19, 2012 at 05:55 PM
They weren't open when I went!!!


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