By Brad Gerstman, Esq.
“The hamlet of Wyandanch is a rarity on suburban Long Island—a community with blighted streets and higher-than-average poverty rates where residents have grappled with social ills like gang violence and illegal drug use for years.”
In order to counteract this decline, local lawmakers and private developers intervened and out of that intervention emerged a $500 million redevelopment project optimistically named, “Wyandanch Rising.”
But if Wyandanch is truly to rise, there needs to be a dramatic turnaround in the help being offered to local schools that are suffering from the neglect of its local and state governments. A large share of that suffering can be directly attributed to the financial short changing of these schools-schools whose struggles should lead to greater support not neglect. Recent budget figures tell the shocking story.
In the just concluded state budget, Long Island schools received a $157 million dollar boost in state aid-“the biggest hike since the 2008 financial crash — as part of a controversial package of financial incentives and education initiatives that Albany lawmakers passed early Wednesday. The extra financial assistance brings the total in the Island’s 124 districts to more than $2.5 billion for the 2015-16 school year– the highest amount ever.”
Yet, can you guess which school district received the lowest increase? If you guessed Wyandanch-one of the Island’s poorest communities with the greatest educational challenges-you would be right. Wyandanch UFSD received a paltry 1.45% increase, the lowest of all Island school districts. For goodness sakes, even Fire Island was given a bigger increase.
There is something terribly wrong with these disparities. Wyandanch High School, with a student body plagued by poverty, single parent homes and neighborhood violence, doesn’t have a single social worker in the school to help these youngsters deal with their pressing problems.
Poverty and its attendant ills are not the only problems faced by the school. Wyandanch High also has a significantly higher percentage of special needs children. While the state average is around 11%, it is estimated that Wyandanch has closer to 18% of these children who need greater educational intervention than other students. If these students are not given the right kind of services at an early age, their problems will multiply-and not only for the kids themselves.
One of the best ways to engage students at risk is through extracurricular activities such as sports and music. Yet Wyandanch has no choir, no band, no orchestra-and also lacks a baseball, wrestling, and cross country track team.
But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there is one area where Wyandanch beats the competition: security spending has increased dramatically to contain restless students whose needs are not being adequately met.
The larger issue here is why has Wyandanch been so neglected by our lawmakers and elected officials? Why has Glen Cove been given more than a 12% increase, Great Neck better than 9%, and struggling Wyandanch, the literal caboose on the train, only getting 1.46%?
In addition to all of these indigenous problems, it now appears that Wyandanch is also experiencing a heavy influx of undocumented immigrant students who will definitely require many additional-budget busting-services. How will these needs be met and, more importantly, who will pay for this?
Clearly this kind of inequality and basic unfairness needs to be addressed by all of our local and state leaders. There is simply no excuse for the shortchanging of the Wyandanch school children-and the fact that this has occurred should prompt outrage among all fair-minded New Yorkers.
Wyandanch schools aren’t rising fast enough-and the fault lies to a great extent with our local and state government. We need our leaders to step up, recognize the progress that Wyandanch has already made, and make sure that the financial neglect of Wyandanch is not allowed to continue.
Brad Gerstman is a leading New York State attorney, lobbyist and communications specialist with Gotham Government Relations & Communicaitons