Editorial: Oysterponds BOE has us scratching our heads

03/22/2012 9:59 AM |

What is the Oysterponds Board of Education thinking?

Board members announced Tuesday night that in early April they’ll decide where East Marion and Orient students will finish their local education. For as long as anyone can remember, Oysterponds kids left that small school in Orient after sixth grade and completed their next six years in Greenport. Now the board is considering adding Mattituck to the mix. With Shelter Island requiring ferry trips and Southold not interested, Mattituck is the only other realistic option.

This is far more complex than it might appear at first blush.

Should the board decide to give parents and students a choice, Mattituck could gain a financial windfall at Greenport’s expense. With its enrollment figures falling, Mattituck could easily absorb some or all of Oysterponds’ students. Even if that required adding new teaching staff, that would not make a significant dent in the $1.4 million or more Mattituck would receive in yearly tuition. New Suffolk, which is much closer to Mattituck than East Marion, sends most of its secondary students to Southold because that district charges less than the rate Mattituck quoted.

The smaller Greenport school, however, would lose both students and revenue — and that could lead to fewer academic offerings and higher taxes.

Because Mattituck is more than 15 miles from Oysterponds, East Marion and Orient residents would be asked to carry the cost of providing transportation there. Does that set a precedent requiring the district to similarly fund bus costs for students attending Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead or the Ross School in East Hampton?

This is a time when school districts are struggling to reduce costs, yet the Oysterponds board seems to be contemplating ideas that can only increase its spending.

It’s been several years since a previous Oysterponds school board commissioned a study of its options. In the ensuing years, Greenport hired a new superintendent and has been very responsive to requests from its eastern neighbor regarding both academics and ways the two districts can smooth the transition for entering seventh-graders.

Exactly what do those who favor Mattituck think they’re going to get that Greenport can’t provide? Other than a larger tuition bill, that is. Has the not-so-hidden undercurrent of snobbery finally raised its elitist head?

For additional proof of why school consolidation makes no sense on the North Fork, look no further than the Greenport-Oysterponds experience of the past few years. No, not the melding of student bodies and programs. That works well. It’s in how the adults get along — or, in this case, don’t. Many of Greenport’s financial and other challenges would all but vanish should Southold Town’s easternmost school systems merge, but obviously the Oysterponds board would have none of that.

It’s time to put this foolishness to rest and negotiate a long-term contract with Greenport. The Oysterponds board should remember that their job is to do what’s best for the majority, not just a vocal few.