By Alicia Bermudez and Sara Tewksbury
More than 2,000 students across three schools in the Sachem school district will be displaced by September due to budget cuts and declining enrollment closing their schools, officials said.
On December 16th, 2015 the Sachem School Board voted 6-3 in favor of closing Gatelot Avenue Elementary, Tecumseh Elementary and Sequoya Middle school. The district is second largest on Long Island with 13,600 students and 18 schools.
Danielle O’Connor, a mom of a Gatelot elementary school student has a unique situation. Her youngest daughter Ella is currently in third grade. O’Connor has another daughter, Emily, 10, who has a terminal illness and attends Sachem’s special needs school.
The teachers and staff at Gatelot were all aware of Emily’s illness and how it could affect Ella. “I will have to speak to school admins to tell them what is typical in our daily life and what to watch for as far as any changes in Ella. This part will be the hardest, we’re leaving our community, our support, our second family,” O’Connor said.
“Sachem doesn’t have a plan,” Magda Nowakowski, a mother of twin sons, who attend Gatelot Avenue Elementary school said. “This will affect not only my children, but hundreds of other kids that will have to be moved around.”
Nowakowski is also in a unique situation, one of her sons, Alex has cerebral palsy. The staff had specific plans in place in order to make sure if he fell behind in any subject he could finish elementary school with his brother and his friends.
“Children with special needs need the stability, structure and known surroundings, not the constant shifting and changing,” Nowakowski said. The family made the transition to the Sachem school district in order to continue their son’s services and since they’re not even sure where to go from here they’re considering moving out of the district. “It’s sad, the district that has always been so great, is very poorly managed,” she said.
The district made the decision because of declining enrollment and a budget crisis, according to school officials. Enrollment has decreased by almost 2,000 students in 12 years and they have a $1.3 million budget gap. Closing these three schools is expected to save $1,551,948.
Initially the Superintendent, James Nolan and school board members were looking at multiple options based on charts of current enrollment and projected enrollment over the next few years.
“After a certain amount of years you have to redistrict because there’s just too many things that happen,” Anthony Falco, the President of the Sachem school board said. “Some buildings have 100 more students than other building, we tried to equalize.”
Many districts other than Sachem are experiencing declining enrollment, Falco said. School officials say there’s a lot of work being done in order to straighten out the bus situation and redistricting.
The Superintendent of the Sachem schools was unable to answer questions.