SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — "It's time for Long Island to come together." That's the belief of Suffolk County School Superintendents Association Executive Director Gary Bixhorn, who wrote an op-ed piece regarding the divide regarding the question of whether or not schools should reopen in September during the coronavirus pandemic.
Following is his op-ed in its entirety:
"The rhetoric around the reopening of schools in September is as heated and intense as any school-related issue in recent memory. The intensity reflects the high stakes. We’ve dealt with many controversial school-related issues in recent years — school shootings, Common Core, property taxes, state aid, accountability, standardized testing, and economic and social inequities based on zip code have all been in the public eye during this time. These issues tend to divide us because public opinion is largely determined by how individuals view the issue’s root cause. As a result, seemingly reasonable responses can drive a wedge between neighbors and friends.
"We cannot allow the array of issues involved in the reopening of schools to divide us. We must unify and address a major issue clearly rooted in the pandemic. Simply stated, every Long Islander needs to actively advocate for a significant increase in federal support leading to additional state aid for schools to respond to the pandemic. Almost every state-mandated response to the pandemic increases the cost of reopening our schools.
"Social distancing requirements on buses and in classrooms will result in increased transportation and staffing costs. Think about it, if we put half the number of kids on each bus and in each classroom, we will need more buses and teachers regardless of how creative we are with our scheduling. If our schools need to be continually cleaned and disinfected, we will need more custodial staff around the clock. If we are going to conduct daily health screenings and isolate children who are sick, the responsibilities of school nurses will be dramatically expanded and they too will require additional support. The list goes on. Nearly every aspect of school operations will become more expensive as we make our school buildings safer for students, staff and their families.
"No one can argue with the current New York State guidelines for school reopening. Every recommended measure makes sense and deserves attention. These measures will make our children safer and contribute to the health and welfare of every resident of our region. We must speak with a strong, unified voice when advocating for increased federal aid to backfill the significant shortfall in state revenues resulting from the pandemic. Our communities continue to do their part to support our schools. Despite growing economic challenges, in the midst of the stress generated by the pandemic, only three of 125 school budgets islandwide were rejected. This success occurred despite repeated warnings from Albany that the state might significantly cut aid midyear," he said.
The Riverhead Central School District is one of those three districts. A revote is slated for Tuesday and students rallied on Saturday for residents to pass the budget and save programs.
"This year our school districts need more than yes votes; they need us to be advocates," Bixhorn continued. "They need us to stand up and tell our representatives in Washington and Albany to do everything within their power to assure that our schools can meet community expectations. They need more financial support appropriated by Congress and signed into law by the president. Equally important, we need our representatives to make certain that the increased funding reaches New York State and our region. Long Island cannot afford to be shortchanged.
"It’s essential that we stand together at this critical time. We need to make certain that our schools have the needed resources to effectively implement the measures necessary to respond to the pandemic."
Gary Bixhorn is a retired district superintendent and the executive director of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.
Do you agree? Let us know your opinion in the comments below. If you would like to submit an op-ed piece, e-mail Lisa.Finn@patch.com.