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Superintendent Recommends Shuttering School, Board Votes Down Citizens’ Advisory Committee

The Smithtown Central School District, after being proactive in planning around New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, made the first decisions towards eliminating its deficit Tuesday night.

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. 

Bill S. February 11, 2011 at 07:23 PM
Sounds like Mr. Ehmann is exhibiting true leadership in the face of a fiscal nightmare. We should applaude and support him. Having served on a Citizens Advisory Committee to the School Board in the past I can attest to the shear waste of time and energy it entails. The citizens of Smithtown want the best education possible for our children however, we are carrying so much expense that is not directed to our children's education but to cover mandatory or statutary expenses associated with rediculous salaries, retirement benefits and the like. Faced with serious and, most likely long term budget problems, if we need to close an elementary school, and not impair the kids education, then do it. We have done it before in Smithtown and we obviously have to do it again. Innovative thinking in the past saw one school leased to Boces when it was excess in the district and another leased to the county for use as the police academy. Both were brought back on line when we needed them.
Rob Onion February 12, 2011 at 02:36 AM
who exactly makes a "ridiculous" salary according to you?
Norman February 12, 2011 at 05:27 PM
True times are tough but there is more going on here than just simply state-aid cuts and budget deficits. These people on the board have a much larger agenda to cut, shrink, and remove all that has made Smithtown a grand school district and had kept property values high even in this bad market. They have systematically spent-down millions in reserves for the express purpose of now being able to say they have no money. The last board meeting seemed like a Tea-Party convention complete with union basing, teacher bashing and my personal favorite statement of the night made in response to not approving coaches salaries for the spring. When asked what the teams should do, one board member responded "That's their problem!" Well, this is going to be all of our problems very shortly. This board has much more on their minds than saving money. They want to change the nature of education in Smithtown and make it look a lot more like something we would see in Alabama!
NESCONSETMOM February 13, 2011 at 07:08 PM
I think Governor Cuomo needs to put a cap on teacher salaries instead of the tax-levy. Most of our budget goes to their salaries.
Steve February 23, 2011 at 08:07 PM
I hope Rob is not a teacher it should be in all seriousness
Beth March 23, 2011 at 08:31 PM
They should get rid of all the dead wood...whether or not they are tenured or not. Smithtown is known to be a "good district" but in the same sense....if the teachers, administrative, personnel are not, then the "school district" is not. As a taxpayer, because you pay high school taxes, does not mean the school district is good. The district should be thankful for what they have. i.e. a job and to do their job for what they are getting paid for especially during these very difficult times. There are a lot of teachers that do not deserve to be a teacher. Their job is to teach and do what's best for the children and not be selfish. It's about the children. If they do not like that, they should not have gone into this field and quit to save the taxpayers money. The district should hire people that are qualified and have the experience and not who they know to get the job. I have seen a big change within the district the last few years in a negative sense, so shame on the teachers that think they deserve more or even to keep their jobs.
LongIslandTaxesRCorrupt March 23, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Citibank CEO cut his pay to $1(one Dollar) for a failing bank,since Mr. ehmann lavish spending and a fail school district managing maybe he should take a$1 (one dollar) pay for a year. did MR EHMANN really need to waste taxpayers money on the largest school district solar system(Mr Law LIPA chairman just happends to be from Smithtown,hmmm wheres the investigation into these two?). just last summer installed a PRO LIKE football astro turf at High school East, Rock climbing wall at that school thats taller then the houses in the area,golf carts for coaches, ride on floor cleaning machines for custodians,waterfalls,brick pavers, neaons signs that looks like Las Vegas,renovations at many schools,Dogwood Mrs Carpenter wasting taxpayers money on reserved principle parking signs,painted lines,walkie talkies,astro turf where grass was then installed grass in another area where astro turf was,exotic plantings. cameras,door buzzer locks and hall greaters, nothing like lavish spending. but yet my child gets a homework assignment to count how many ants in the classroom by Mrs Reid. maybe a few dollars could be spent for an exterminator. Don't forget taxpayers on Newsday website of School Pensions Mr Plantz former superintentent is the HIGHEST paid pension of about $157,000 per year!!!!!!!!!!
LongIslandTaxesRCorrupt March 23, 2011 at 10:23 PM
we could have butler/doorman at a cheaper rpice then hall greaters sitting at a desk painting her nails and atleast the butler will open the door instead of sitting in a chair gaing weight
LongIslandTaxesRCorrupt March 23, 2011 at 10:28 PM
for only about a five year influx of kids the schools scammed the taxpayers to open Mills pond and a scond High school just to hirer more teachers when they could of put 4 extra kids in a classroom,oh no don't want to over work a teacher with more students
LongIslandTaxesRCorrupt March 23, 2011 at 10:33 PM
the "negative change starts from the top with poor leadership
LongIslandTaxesRCorrupt March 23, 2011 at 10:39 PM
Planz, Charles A 2006-07-22 338 Smithtown $13,259.44 MONTHLY PENSION ************"$159,113.28 =YEARLY PENSION"********** YOU WILL PAY HIM THIS FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE!!!! Keep voting for the budgets and you have no one to blame but yourself

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