Column: Pass the budget, don’t hurt the kids

Suffolk Times editor Tim Kelly jokingly refers to it as “The People’s Republic of Oysterponds.” His point, I think, is that the residents of Orient, in particular, and East Marion, almost as often, have their own unique way of thinking and of doing things — whether it relates to issues as far ranging as ferry traffic, access to Long Beach, new age health spas, public water supplies or, most recently, freedom of educational choice.

Full disclosure: The former Joan Giger Walker and I are 34-year residents of said People’s Republic. We sent both of our daughters to Oysterponds Elementary School and later to Greenport High School. (In fact, we decided to settle in Orient primarily because of the excellence of the little public school.) And two of our grandchildren currently attend Oysterponds.

So it was with a certain degree of self-interest that we agreed recently to place a “Please vote YES on the School Budget” sign in the front yard of our home in Orient. And a certain degree of anger when someone took it upon themselves to remove the sign. (Hey, Bozo, that’s trespassing!)

To date, I have refrained from expressing an opinion on the current controversy, but that trespasser has got my dander up, as they say. So here goes:

Pass the budget, stupid. The kids currently attending Oysterponds will suffer the most if the budget goes down. And any attempt to link it (the budget) to the upcoming referendum on high school choice only obfuscates matters.

And you can forget the idea of closing Oysterponds and consolidating elementary districts with Greenport. Oysterponds has been historically, and continues to be, an amazing little haven for turning out well-educated, well-rounded 12-year-olds. And if you doubt that, just track Oysterponds graduates’ levels of achievement and advancement through Greenport High School and beyond.

Now are you ready for a big surprise? I’ve changed my mind over the years on the question of giving Oysterponds students a choice of attending a high school other than Greenport. I used to think it was a no-brainer: choice, of course. But now I’m not so certain. And that’s not only because of the obvious reason — that the removal of Oysterponds students would undo generations of tradition and simply devastate Greenport High School.

As much of a concern is the impact it would have on the communities of Orient and East Marion. It’s bound to have a deleterious affect if kids who grow up next door to each other, and attend elementary school together, end up taking buses to different high schools. And to ask district taxpayers to underwrite that bisection of the community is unfair and unwarranted.

No, if you live in Orient or East Marion and want your child to attend high school elsewhere, you must be prepared to do one of four things: accept the status quo, home school your child, pony up the tuition for the private or public school of your child’s choice or pick up stakes and move your family to the school district that best meets your child’s needs.

That’s easier said than done, of course, but it does seem the most equitable resolution for all concerned.

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