Southold, Greenport discuss possibility of shared athletic facility for North Fork schools

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Greenport superintendent Michael Comanda (left) and Southold superintendent David Gamberg at a joint work session between the districts Wednesday.

A new shared athletic facility for all North Fork schools tops the wish list of Greenport and Southold school boards and administrators, who met at the Southold School District for a joint work session on shared services Wednesday night.

Southold School Board member Scott De Simone said he’s been discussing with Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell a shared facility, with an eight-lane track, a turf field and lighting, which could be used by the Southold, Greenport and Mattituck school districts, as well as the public at large.

He urged other members of the boards to bring Mattituck into discussions on the joint facility, which he said could be a joint project between the school districts, the town and the private sector.

“Money is cheap right now,” he said. “We can borrow for 1 percent.”

Though Mr. De Simone said the facility could be used for Friday night football games, some members of the Greenport board weren’t happy with the idea.

“I can hear the grumbling at the firehouse now about taking Friday night football out of Greenport,” said Greenport board member Dan Creedon.

The field could also be used for other sports events, said Mr. De Simone, who added that a track is desperately needed by all the North Fork schools.

“It’s tragic not to have a track and field team,” said Greenport board member Heather Wolf. “That’s supposed to be the most basic of sports.”

Board members weren’t sure where the facility would be located, but Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said it would be open to the community at large, and would help enhance residents’ property values.

“If the school districts are at least willing, the supervisor will entertain the conversation,” said Mr. De Simone. Southold has received many requests for a public sports facility during the town’s recent completion of a parks and recreation chapter for its new comprehensive plan.

Board members from both districts enthusiastically discussed the possibility of shared AP courses, special education services, buildings and grounds and technology coordination during their first joint meeting since 2000 (both districts did participate in a meeting with Mattituck and Oysterponds in 2006, said Mr. Gamberg).

Mr. Gamberg said that, in the past, the districts had shared special education, calculus, history, English and chemistry classes, as well as a newspaper.

“Yes, in fact, there was a time when it did work,” he said. “For some reason or other, the effort went by the wayside. We want to go on the record and sit here tonight to bring that back, and even go further.”

Greenport School Board president Tina Volinski said fellow board member, Michael Mazzafero, had taken shared AP classes when he was a student at Greenport, and Southold Vice President Judi Fouchet said her brother had taken shared AP classes when he was a student at Southold.

“I think there’s definitely an opportunity there to provide all those classes for our students some way,” she said.

Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda said his school has already laid the groundwork to start offering an AP microeconomics class, while Southold president Paulette Ofrias said the districts currently hold AP science classes in alternating years.

“Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit. We can start small with one or two courses,” said Southold Superintendent David Gamberg.

Ms. Wolf, from Greenport, said she’d like Greenport students to be able to participate in Southold’s orchestra. Greenport doesn’t have an orchestra.

“If we were to start an orchestra, it would gut our band,” she said. “A lot of children take orchestra instruments privately but there’s no future in it [at Greenport school].”

Mr. Comanda said Greenport’s ESL program is growing by leaps and bounds, and the school is struggling to provide services for young teenagers. Mr. Gamberg said Southold is seeing an increase in ESL students, though it isn’t as dramatic as the increase in Greenport.”

Mr. Gamberg also suggested that special education teachers could be shared between the districts, and a specialized teacher in the field could work at both districts.

“The families have to be brought into this, as do the teaching staff,” he said. “The why is more important than the how. If we have a strong enough why we’ll figure out how.”

Mr. Creedon, of Greenport, said he would like the districts to adopt the same academic, drug use and selective classification policies for students who participate on shared sports teams.

Board members also discussed the possibility of shared theater programs. Southold had originally cut a play from its 2011-2012 budget, but added it back later, while Greenport has recently renovated its auditorium and is anxious to use the space.

“I would love to do a straight drama, but it’s hard to budget for a second production,” said Mr. Comanda.

But the devil will be in the details for sharing of services. Transportation costs and travel times need to be figured in, and the two districts have a slightly different bell schedule, said board members. Some suggested using video-conferencing to allow students from one district to participate in classes at the other district, while others were concerned there wouldn’t be much cost savings, since the students using the video-conferencing would still need to have a member of the teaching staff in the room with them. The effort, they said, was more about increasing opportunities for students than it was about saving money.

Ms. Volinski said shared services will likely be mandated by the state in the future.

“We are here to do this on our terms rather than have it done to us,” said Mr. Gamberg.

Board members agreed to begin discussions on shared AP classes, sports facilities and special education, and to meet again together in the near future.

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