Equal Time: There’s no reason to choose Mattituck

My daughter teaches at Greenport High School, and I am a 22-year member of the Oysterponds Board of Education. These facts don’t disqualify me from writing this as a private citizen with concerns regarding the education of students in the Oysterponds district.

During my tenure on the board, the issue of high school choice has been investigated half a dozen times. No reason to change our present arrangement has ever been compelling enough to offer a choice of high schools. There is no rational reason to do so now.

But as of April 2 the North Fork’s educational configuration underwent a change when the Oysterponds board offered secondary students a choice of Mattituck or Greenport.

Choice is an act of selection, an alternative to what is. As an abstract, this is a terrific concept. But how, when and why this is to be done entails a long, arduous process that will be cumbersome, expensive, dangerous and not easily accomplished.

Several facts stand out. Parents have been asking for more communication, curriculum alignment, transparency and social opportunities to transition students to 7th grade, and a stronger voice in their secondary school. By offering two high schools, that communication will become more cumbersome and fragmented. And a 35- or 40-mile round trip daily to Mattituck to pick children up from sports and extracurriculars will wear on families.

I asked fellow BOE members why we are offering choice. The answers were “because we can” and “for negotiating purposes.” No one mentioned education.

What does Greenport High School lack that we’re seeking? How many families want to change schools? What is the reason? What about the relationships that have been formed by Greenport and Oysterponds kids in Little League, soccer, Boy Scouts and other activities?

Why not a choice of elementary schools? Heck, close the Oysterponds School, retain the district and tuition out everyone all over the North Fork (a big savings, by the way). I wonder how the taxpayers and parents in Mattituck feel about the addition of Oysterponds students? Has anyone ever asked them?

By offering a choice of high schools, the Oysterponds board is presenting the taxpayers with a budget that’s as far from accurate and responsible as any I’ve ever seen. With choice we’ll have four tuition rates — a regular education rate and a separate special education rate for each school — and two transportation routes. If a referendum is passed piercing the 15-mile transportation limit, we will be transporting students to private schools, possibly as far as East Hampton. That’s a pricey proposition.

This budget nightmare extends to the Greenport district. They have no way to plan and no way of knowing how many students to expect. If just five students chose Mattituck, the tuition payments to Greenport would fall by $70,000. That’s a teaching position lost. This would erode the education in Greenport at least until next year when the numbers can be finalized and adjustments made.

Mattituck doesn’t have this problem. If all 75 of our students went to MHS, they could be integrated over six grade levels with little if any increase in staffing. We would provide them with a financial windfall. But even Mattituck could be affected by numbers because no plans have even been put forth as to how often a student could change back and forth between the schools.

Any contract, the school board stated, will be put to the voters. It has been promised by motion that wherever you start your secondary education, you will be allowed to stay there to complete it. Sounds great, but what happens if a three-year contract with Mattituck is not renewed? Mattituck is under no obligation to accept Oysterponds students in the absence of an agreement.

Students who must leave could lose their class ranking or sports status, and the scholarship opportunities that go with them.

Ironically, the only entity that does not get a choice in all the upheaval is Greenport High School. They must accept Oysterponds students whatever the situation, as they are the next district contiguous to Oysterponds.

I don’t choose choice. There’s no educational, financial or social reason to offer one.

Greenport is not a failing school and is receptive to Oysterponds’ concerns. Our students do well there and should continue to be sent to Greenport to study, learn, compete and mature in a nurturing school that’s a social microcosm of today’s world. That’s what 21st century education is all about.

Ms. Goldsmith was one of two Oysterponds school board members voting against adding Mattituck as a potential secondary school. She lives in East Marion.