No break in Oysterponds’ deal with Greenport

Oysterponds junior and senior high school students will attend classes in Greenport in the fall. But with the district planning a May referendum to gauge taxpayers’ feelings on whether they want a choice of different high school, that’s not a long-term commitment.

But that referendum alone may not bring about a quick resolution to the doubts clouding the two districts’ relationship.

After a standing-room-only crowd waited through a budget session of more than 90 minutes on March 30, Oysterponds school board members heard from a parade of students and parents saying they all “bleed purple,” Greenport’s school colors, and want the two schools to remain connected, if only contractually.

In response, the board withdrew a motion naming both Greenport and Mattituck-Cutchogue as “possible receiving districts” for the 2011-12 school year and then voted unanimously to continue to send students to Greenport in the fall.

But the board also agreed to put a resolution on the ballot in May asking taxpayers if they want a choice of another school district. Board members agreed that if only about 10 percent of voters want to explore the possibility of sending secondary students to another district, it probably wouldn’t be worth pursuing. But if 40 percent or so want another option, board members could spend much of the next year exploring the possibilities.

Students spoke of the rich diversity at Greenport that gives them life lessons they wouldn’t experience in another district. They said there are extracurricular activities in which they participate now that aren’t available in Mattituck. Some begged board members not to tear apart their Greenport school family.

Parents said they chose to live in Orient or East Marion based on the schools, assuming their children would go first to Oysterponds and then to Greenport.

“This district is in turmoil,” said Greenport teacher Cynthia Goldsmith Agosta.

“What doesn’t Greenport have that you want?” she challenged the board. “Greenport is not a failing school. We all know that academics have never been the real issue.”

Former Greenport school board president Gary Charters has charged in the past that racism is behind the push some Oysterponds parents make in favoring Mattituck over Greenport.

“This board is so dysfunctional at this point, the public does not believe a word you say,” Ms. Agosta later told the Oysterponds board.

Ms. Agosta’s mother, Oysterponds board member Linda Goldsmith, said she was asked several years ago to speak to Mattituck-Cutchogue to determine whether it might take Oysterponds’ junior and senior high students. At that time, she was told that Mattituck would take only the advanced placement students, she said.

Stepping aside from her role as a board member, Ms. Goldsmith said she has had her criticisms of Greenport, but the district has always been responsive.

“Please don’t think I blindly follow where Greenport leads,” she said. But in favoring Greenport now, she said she doesn’t “believe in splitting communities apart.”

In 2008, a board-appointed committee that included board members and community representatives studied the possibility of sending Oysterponds’ secondary students to another district. With Southold choosing not to participate, the committee considered the Greenport, Mattituck-Cutchogue and Shelter Island school systems. The results appeared to favor Mattituck-Cutchogue, but no action was ever taken. The public was never given information on the cost differential, including both tuition and transportation.

Just this year, New Suffolk, geographically closer to Mattituck than to its current receiving district, Southold, abandoned any thought of switching its secondary school students because Mattituck’s tuition costs are higher.

Oysterponds and Greenport are currently awaiting a state Department of Education ruling on the Oysterponds board’s attempt to end a contract that would keep Oysterponds’ secondary students in Greenport through the 2013-14 school year.

While board members love their acting superintendent/principal, Joan Frisicano, they aren’t ready to enter into a long-term relationship. They withdrew a motion to appoint Ms. Frisicano the permanent part-time superintendent as of July 1, while assuring her that the decision didn’t reflect any dissatisfaction with her work. She started as interim principal in December.

“We hired our last superintendent quickly and we rue that day,” Ms. Goldsmith said, referring to Dr. Stuart Rachlin, whose contract the board bought out this year.

Board members agreed that they will take time to review other resumes and carefully consider potential candidates.

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