Smithtown Central School District Superintendent Edward Ehmann on Tuesday night’s school board meeting answered community speculation regarding the possibility of an elementary school closing in the district. And the news wasn't good.
“I believe we have to close a school,” he said, though the decision hasn't been made about which one.
While the superintendent recommended , he also debunked rumors that , was the school chosen to be closed.
“The rumor mill is going to churn no matter what we do,” Ehmann said. “We’re trying to do things in a transparent fashion but the rumor mill churns. I’m not prepared to tell you which one yet but I will be in the next three weeks after I hear all of the details."
The decision comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a state budget that would cut state aid to the district by 2.61 percent, resulting in a loss of $5.5 million. In addition to the state aid cuts, the district will also see an increase in expenses of roughly $7.5 million, from the Teachers’ Retirement System, Employees Retirement System, health care costs and the Smithtown Teachers Association scheduled salary step raise.
Upon hearing the , Ehmann said the district needed to act, not wait for the final number to be decided.
“Historically the governor proposes a budget and then the assembly and the senate get into deliberations with the governor and last year they did not close the budget until July and it’s supposed to be done by April 1. It doesn’t really help us until the final number is negotiated but we have to start somewhere and we’re going to start with this number,” he said in a phone interview following the governor’s proposal.
The superintendent also suggested the board not pursue the approval of a Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing, stating swift action is needed to resuscitate the bleak financial situation of the district – the board defeated the committee four votes to two. The committee, to be made up of community members, was intended to explore cost cutting measures in the district.
Board of Education Member Theresa Knox said she was stunned the superintendent was not in favor of the formation of the committee and that the district needs to explore this option and other money saving options further.
“I am seriously concerned that this move will wind up costing us money because it has not been addressed thoroughly. … I think we are also being penny wise and pound foolish in terms of the most efficient ways of addressing the problem,” she said. “After the Citizens Advisory Committee has done a thorough job it may still be the right move to close a building but if you do it precipitously you’re going to make major, costly mistakes.”
Scott Martella, who is in his second term on the board, said the formation of the committee could give the board insight from the perspective of the people the decisions would affect the most.
“This isn’t a decision to curry favor, this is merely a decision to provide community insight and careful study and I feel we’re neglecting our community as a board to pursue something as drastic as this in such a short timeframe when the budget is coming so close,” he said. “It’s not to say that this might not be a good strategy in terms of closing a school but to do it in short timeframe I think is ill-advised, I think it goes against the better judgment of the administration and the board."
In the governor’s proposal, Cuomo stated two $250 million grants would be awarded to school districts that show significant academic improvements as well as produce ways to reduce district costs and become more efficient.
“Smithtown already has a track record for getting results so we’d have to look at the criteria but we will look into any grants that are out there and I haven’t seen the criteria of the awards but whatever is out there we’re going to try to compete for as well,” Ehmann said.
The Business Affairs Committee will meet next on Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m., and the Housing Committee will meet on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.