Parents push against elementary school closure

Parents push against elementary school closure

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The Smithtown board of education meets on Tuesday night to discuss potential school closures. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Smithtown school district board of education is weighing its options for ways to cut costs, and thus far parents in the district have delivered a clear message: Do not close Branch Brook Elementary School.

In a housing report released in November 2015 by the school board with Superintendent James Grossane’s name on it, the recommended course of action was to close one of the district’s eight elementary schools, specifically Branch Brook.

The report estimated that closing an elementary school would save the district about $725,000 annually, though very little data was provided to back that up. Prior to the 2012 school year, an advisory housing committee was formed and recommended that Nesconset Elementary School be closed, based on substantial data accumulated about the district and the community. Residents accepted the closure.

This time around there is little evidence that any data was used to come to the conclusion that Branch Brook deserves to be closed, according to Peter Troiano, who is a member of the Save Branch Brook group.

The organization is comprised of about three dozen parents, Troiano said in a phone interview last week, but a look at the group’s Facebook page or their petition showed support in the hundreds.

“I’m not a PTA dad, I’m not involved in the schools,” Troiano said. “When I saw this proposal I knew right away looking at it that it doesn’t make sense.” Troiano said that he’s never a fan of closing schools, though he understood the necessity to close Nesconset a few years ago based on the data and research provided by the district.

The overwhelming sentiment from the Save Branch Brook parents at the meetings has been to ask for another housing committee to be assembled, and the same due diligence done as was done prior to 2012’s closure. A housing committee was assembled in 2014 to assess the feasibility of closing another elementary school, but no specific one was chosen, Annemarie Vinas, a member of that housing committee said at Tuesday night’s board meeting. Vinas contended that none of their findings would lead them to suggest Branch Brook be closed, but that is what the board recommended anyway.

“No one wants to close a school,” Grossane said in an interview following Tuesday’s meeting. “We need to be fiscally responsible. The board asked me to look at the results [of the housing committee’s findings]. These were my suggestions. The board is listening to the community. It’s their decision. I’m not sure where they’re going to go.”

Grossane declined to get any more specific than that prior to the Jan. 19 public work session for the school board, which will be their first chance to address the specific questions and concerns that the community has presented since November.

Since that November 2015 school board meeting that made it evident closing Branch Brook was on the table for the board, very little else has emerged as a topic of conversation at multiple school board meetings, workshops and hearings.

The Save Branch Brook parents came armed not only with matching blue T-shirts sporting the group name, but also with substantial statistical data.

Parents involved in the Save Branch Brook movement who wish to remain anonymous who are also analysts put together their own presentation for the board ahead of the December 2015 meeting. Entitled “Quantitative Analysis of Smithtown Elementary School Information,” the report concluded that Branch Brook was the elementary school that made the least sense of the eight to close based on the following factors: projected enrollment decrease over the next 10 years; building occupancy; square foot per student; students per usable classroom; and utility cost.

Another area of contention is the New York Avenue district office building. The housing committee that condemned Nesconset Elementary also suggested that this building be sold, and another space in a school in the district be used for the school board. To date that has not happened, though Grossane said at Tuesday night’s meeting that the board is working with the community on a way to repurpose the building and move to save costs.

The debate seems to be just getting started, though more will be clear following the work session on Jan. 19.

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