Lake Ronkonkoma Civic Organization

Sachem School District Considers Facilities Options

The Sachem School Board is looking at their options in light of declining enrollment. Enrollment at Sachem has dropped from a high of 20,497 in 1979 to 13,787 this year and is expected to drop to 12,771 in 2018. This means district schools are underutilized and may present financial opportunities. The greatest level of underutilization presents itself in the Elementary Schools, followed by the Middle Schools. This logically follows from the root cause of declining enrollment. The Sachem community is aging due to an exodus of young adults with a resulting reduced birth rate. This reduced birth rate continues to impact incoming Kindergarten classes. The current kindergarten class was expected to be about 900 and is only 826. This reduction isn’t represented in the 12,771 projection above.

This declining enrollment occurs during a period of increasing budget stress. The budget for the current school year was favorably impacted by a late infusion of additional State aid. It’s unclear what future levels of State aid will be but the District is still required to maintain property tax rates within the State tax cap. That’s the reason the School Board is reviewing all options. The Facilities discussion is just one of those options.

The Facilities review began when the Board formed a committee of district residents in October 2013. This committee presented its findings at a School Board meeting February 26, 2014. The findings consisted of a wide range of school closing scenarios. The School Board narrowed this down to four scenarios and asked the Superintendent to make presentations on each of the 4 during Board meetings in the fall of 2014. The fourth presentation occurred at the School Board meeting November 19, 2014. All of these presentations are available for public view on the Sachem Web Site: http://www.sachem.edu/board/budget14/School_Closing_Options.htm.

The four scenarios evaluated were:
1. Close two (2) Elementary Schools
2. Close two (2) Middle Schools and move 6th grade classes to the Elementary Schools
3. Close two (2) Elementary Schools and 1 Middle School
4. Close one (1) Middle School

It’s important to note that the savings associated with the school closings in each scenario do not include reduction in teaching staff. Teaching staff will generally follow the students.

It’s also important to note that each of these scenarios will entail redistricting, i.e. changing the mapping of residence addresses to specific school buildings. Moreover the Superintendent has stated that the extreme variances in the number of children in each school currently will require some redistricting whether any schools are closed or not.

Select community groups have attended one or another of the budget presentations as each option was reviewed. It’s clear that no one want’s their school closed. It’s also clear that no one wants redistricting.

The School Board does not seem enamored of any of the specific scenarios and has thus requested the Superintendent identify options to utilize the excess capacity through options other than closing schools.

It’s not clear where this discussion will end up, but with continued decline in enrollment and continued budget pressure it’s likely that something will occur at some time in the next several years. And while it’s not been stated, the expected level of State aid for the upcoming school year may cause greater urgency.