It's official: The West Islip School District will close and elementary schools at the end of the school year.
Thursday night's announcement at the monthly Board of Education meeting was long awaited, and drew mixed reactions from the hundreds of residents who gathered inside the auditorium.
BOE President Steve Gellar presented the decision and said each trustee considered numerous factors in their individual evaluations including size, space, number of classrooms, marketability, location, traffic conditions, etc.
"I want to thank members of the public, who’ve taken such keen interest in this process," Gellar said. "This has been a long and arduous process, which I know that we all wish hadn’t been necessary. Unfortunately declining enrollment coupled with state’s economic crisis make it necessary. I know that some people will be unhappy with the decision we make tonight but I’m confident that we’ll make the situation work."
The district will consolidate all elementary students into the four remaining schools: Oquenock, Bellew, Manetuck and Bayview. The closure of the Kirdahy and Westbrook is expected to save the district between $2.4 million and $3.2 million.
"The students that get redistricted will be welcome by their new classmates, the PTAs will reach out to the incoming parents and the administration will do everything they can to help ease the transition," Gellar said. "In short, we will pull together as a community as we always do."
The decision to close any school was first made public at a in late October. Nearly 400 people attended at the hearing, at which Superintendent Rick Simon presented a slideshow that displayed several school closure options. The BOE eventually narrowed down all of the options and focused on two elementary schools.
The next challenge for the district is to cut spending to bring down the 2012-13 projected school budget of $114.1 million, which is a 6.5 percent increase and nearly 11 percent tax levy hike from the current budget.
"Deciding to close a school is a very emotional issue," Simon said. "These are, in my opinion, the most challenging and difficult times that schools have faced. We are working in an era where we are expected to improve the performance of our students, our teachers, our staff, ourselves.
He added, "And yet at the same time, we are facing economic realities that have us spending a great deal of time trying to figure out how to balance a budget and deciding what needs to be reduced or taken away."