Residents of the New Suffolk Common School District are expected to learn the school system’s fate at a special Board of Education meeting Jan. 31.
The board scheduled the vote after hearing recommendations from a four-member committee on the future of the school Tuesday. The advice comes after the district was ordered by the State Education Department to reinstate, with backpay, a former teacher whose job had been cut in 2015.
District resident Lauren Grant, who chaired the citizen committee, said Tuesday that members determined Martha Kennelly, who has been working offsite developing curriculum this school year, should be returned to classroom teaching duties in the fall. Under the recommendation, the district’s two active classroom teachers would be retained at the school, which currently educates just 15 students.
“However, should enrollment decline substantially, staffing needs for the school would have to be revisited and we would then recommend the students be tuitioned out to another school district and remaining teachers excised,” Ms. Grant told the board and the roughly two dozen community members in attendance at the sometimes contentious meeting Tuesday.
School board president Tony Dill said the district essentially has three options moving forward: keep the K-6 school open with three full-time teachers; keep it open with two full-time teachers; or send the district’s elementary students to a neighboring school district, effectively ending classroom education at the 111-year-old school building.
New Suffolk, which is currenly operating on a $1.1 million budget and sends its secondary students to Southold, currently has five full-time staff members — two classroom teachers, two teaching assistants and Ms. Kennelly.
Mr. Dill said that should the elementary students be tuitioned to another district — most likely Mattituck-Cutchogue or Southold — the schoolhouse could be used for multiple other purposes, including administrative offices, extracurricular activities or enrichment education opportunities.
With the committee’s decision announced, some residents expressed concern over what the future might hold for their district.
“Are we now every year as parents wondering ‘Are the kids getting tuitioned out next year?’” New Suffolk resident Brooke Dailey asked. “This has been very emotional for all of the parents.”
Should the school board vote to send students to a different district, the matter would be the subject of a public referendum, which Mr. Dill said would likely be voted on in March.
Should the school remain open, Mr. Dill said residents should expect significant tax increases, staffing cuts and a restructuring of curriculum.
“The community will have a say either way,” Mr. Dill said. “They’re all bad options. It’s hard to get excited about it. And it’s hard to get voters excited about something you’re not excited about.”
The school board is also mulling a bond to to fund Ms. Kennelly’s back pay from the two previous school years. The district is currently paying Ms. Kennelly an annual salary totaling $119,485. With benefits, she is owed roughly $300,000 from the district.
Ms. Kennelly was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, sitting in the front row alongside the attorney representing her in an active age discrimination lawsuit against the district. The audience was split among supporters of Ms. Kennelly and those criticizing her desire to return to the classroom.
The Jan. 31 meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.