Cut a year off school and save, critic says

07/15/2010 12:00 AM |

Would completing high school in three years instead of four save enough money to give each college-bound senior $10,000 in tuition assistance and still save Southold School District taxpayers money?

School board watcher Don Wagner believes it would. He asked board members at their July 7 meeting to consider the idea.

Mr. Wagner estimates it costs Southold $28,000 a year to educate each student, a figure he calculates by dividing the number of students enrolled into the total budget. That’s not how the State Education Department figures per student costs. It makes adjustments for such things as transportation and special education costs, which differ widely district to district. But Mr. Wagner argues that his method applies because of what comes out of his pocket in taxes.

He told board members that it costs less to send a student to Stony Brook University for a year of college. That’s about$17,000 to $18,000 a year. Suffolk County Community College, he said, costsan average of only about $8,000 a year per student.

“The cost here is prohibitive,” Mr. Wagner said about what Southold spends. Earlier in the meeting, he told board members he expected the district’s next budget to have no tax increase. “We’ve got to start planning now,” he said.

If students completed all course work in three years instead of four, the district could save $28,000 per student, by Mr. Wagner’s calculations, enabling the Southold to provide college tuition assistance.

“There’s no reason why this is not possible,” Mr. Wagner said.

“That’s certainly thinking outside the box,” said newly elected board president Paulette Ofrias. But she had another idea: offering more courses to students in their senior year of high school, courses for which they could earn college credits. That would save their families tuition money by enabling students to earn a college degree in less than four years.

Outgoing board president Judi Fouchet balked at Mr. Wagner’s idea, saying that as a parent, she thinks there’s already too much pressure on students and it would get worse if they were pushed to complete their high school studies in three years.

“But I think it’s an interesting concept,” she told Mr. Wagner.


Ms. Fouchet, who stepped down as board president but remains a board member, told her colleagues she wanted to devote more energy to North Fork United Schools, the group of representatives of area school districts exploring ways to save money by consolidating services, including business and transportation.

“I have a real passion for this,” Ms. Fouchet said.

She also said she wanted to form a committee to explore improvements to the elementary school playground. As a certified child care provider for preschoolers in Southold, Ms. Fouchet said she had real concerns about the children for whom she cares transitioning into the school system where playground equipment isn’t up to par.

Temporary move

With a number of improvements to the district’s physical plant under way, Superintendent David Gamberg said he and others in the administration are operating out of the elementary school computer lab. Many of the improvements will be completed this summer, but some will continue into the first few of months of school in the fall.

A change order will soon be processed soon to allow replacement of some bathroom pipes in the section of the building where the middle school initiative will operate, Mr. Gamberg said. The cost hadn’t yet been determined, he said. It wasn’t until work got under way on the project that the need to replace corroded pipes was discovered, he said.


The board plans a special meeting on Friday, July 23, at 7:30 a.m. to discuss appointments of its members to various subcommittees and establish its meeting calendar for the year ahead. The board has been holding work sessions on the second Wednesday of each month, with regular meetings on the fourth Wednesday, both at 7:30 p.m. But that schedule has been difficult for Dr. Robert Walsh, whose responsibilities at two hospitals have caused him to miss a number of board sessions.

To try and accommodate the entire board, members will explore whether another day might work better, Ms. Ofrias said. She also noted that this is an issue that should be reopened each year so as not to discourage district residents from considering running for a board seat just because they may be busy on Wednesday nights.


The Suffolk Association of School Business Officials has provided a $1,000 scholarship to be given to a deserving student in honor of what the organization called “outstanding work” by assistant superintendent and business manager Steve Harrison. Mr. Harrison helped select the recipient, Ryan Wilson, who is headed to Northeastern University in September.

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