LEAD: A SHARP drop-off in the numbers of students enrolled in occupational education courses and how best to include AIDS education in the classroom curriculum will be among the top concerns facing Long Island educators as 404,000 students return to Nassau and Suffolk schools this week.
A SHARP drop-off in the numbers of students enrolled in occupational education courses and how best to include AIDS education in the classroom curriculum will be among the top concerns facing Long Island educators as 404,000 students return to Nassau and Suffolk schools this week.
The overall (kindergarten through 12th grade) enrollment decline of less than 2 percent below last year's 410,800 is consistent with school officials' predictions that Long Island's enrollment decline, while still occurring, is leveling off. Dr. John Stiglmeir of the New York State Department of Education's Information Center on Education, said that numbers have already increased in the early grades, and he expects that by 1990 Long Island will even see a slight increase in the number of its school-age children, though he emphasized that the increase would not be dramatic.
This projected increase has made school boards more cautious in their plans for school buildings they've already closed. Where just a few years ago boards aggressively sought buyers for their excess buildings, now, said Pamela Betheil, the Suffolk County director of the New York State School Boards Association, "Boards are attempting to retain their facilities with possible future enrollment rises in mind."
She said that mass closings in the face of precipitous enrollment declines were no longer happening and added, "What we're seeing now is perhaps one underutilized or unutilized building in a district."
School spending on Long Island remains higher than state averages. Nassau County's districts will be spending an average of $5,930 a student; in Suffolk the average figure for the coming school year is $5,198. The statewide average is $4,188 a pupil.
Dr. Frank O'Connor, coordinator of educational finance for the State Education Department, said these numbers are based on the districts' approved operating expenses, a commonly used indicator thatincludes most of the major components of a school budget but does not include some building aid.
The highest budget increases this year were on the East End. District 1 of Boces (the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which provides special services for school districts)had an average budget rise this year of 10.4 percent, according to Assistant Superintendent Carmine Antonelli.
Dr. Edward J. Milliken, District Superintendent of Boces 2, said that the 27 mid-Suffolk districts comprising his unit saw an average budget rise this year of 7 to 8 percent. At neighboring Boces 3 with 18 districts, the rise was in the area of 6 to 7 percent, and Nassau's 56 school districts experienced an average budget increase of 6 percent.
This continued high level of local school spending evidently has not resulted in the voter revolts that once were a fact of life on theIsland. With the great majority of districts beginning the year with new budgets, only six - North Merrick, Central Islip, Wantagh, Elmont, East Islip and North Babylon - will be on austerity, meaning they do not have a voter-approved budget. East Islip and North Babylon will vote again later this month.
The state's Excellence in Teaching Awards continue to be a bone of contention between school boards and teachers' unions. The award program was begun last year by Governor Cuomo to bolster salaries for younger teachers, thus attracting more highly qualified teachers to the schools. Harris Dinkoff, president of the Nassau/Suffolk School Boards Association, said the members of his group are "very much opposed" to the awards. "It's a total misnomer and has nothing to do with excellence," Mr. Dinkoff said.
Mr. Dinkoff, who is also a Valley Stream school board official, suggested that if the state has money to invest in excellence, "it should go to teacher training, to merit pay, to mentor programs or be given to districts for staff education." According to Mr. Dinkoff, boards have been subjected to union pressure to apply for the awards, fearing a loss of teacher morale should they fail to do so.
Across the state, all but about 15 districts have applied for the money; on Long Island the holdouts include Bethpage, Sag Harbor, Remsenburg and Middle Country (Glen Cove and Long Beach have not applied because, as city districts, their state financing formulas differ from those of local districts).
Middle Country's Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jerald F. Foley, said his district did not apply for its 1986 award of $606,000 and has not yet applied for the 1987 $802,000 award because "the board has a lot of questions about the structure of how the awards must be distributed." Many but not all districts have applied the money across the board to teachear and have used other district funds to foot the slight resultant increases in fringe benefits.
The Regents Action Plan, a move by the Board of Regents to strengthen educational skills through increased numbers of mandated courses, is now in its third year of operation. Local educators, while approving the intent of the new requirements, have identified an unforeseen outcome, which they call "alarming" for students and potentially for industry.
According to Dr. Ira Singer, District Superintentant of Nassau Boces, in the last three years all of the Metro Boces units - a group consisting of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Putnam and Orange Counties - have experienced "a sharp drop in enrollment in occupational education." The 32 percent drop in students signed up for these courses is, said Dr. Singer and other Boces officials, out of proportion to the overall drop in the numbers of high-school-age students during the same period. They credit the falloff to the demands placed on students by the Regents Action Plan.
"The decline is especially marked among youngsters who are candidates for Regents diplomas," said Dr. Edward J. Murphy, District Superintendent of Boces 3 in western Suffolk. He explained that that population had represented the biggest problem because the Regents Action Plan does not allow enough time for completion of academic requirements within the home transportation to a Boces location and the taking of the Boces courses.
While Boces and State Education Department personnel agree that more flexibility on the part of the Regents may be needed if there is to be a turnaround in the number of students registered for and completing occupational education, the state education people cite factors other than tight scheduling as contributors to the problem.
The department's assistant commissioner for occupational and continuing education, James A. Kadamus, said there is a competition for students between Boces units and local school districts, a competition that has implications for future job preservation within the districts. He explained that Boces may not recruit for students (information about opportunities in occupational education are generally provided by local district personnel) and that admission barriers, which he called "inequitable," are sometimes set by districts.
"These students do not have to meet any special criteria for programs within the home district," Mr. Kadamus said. "Why do they for Boces?"
Also an issue of equity, Mr. Kadamus said, is what he called the unfairness of districts offering differing units of credits for Boces courses. Mr. Kadamus said that two students in a given class can get different amounts of credit for that class according to the dictates of the home district.
With Dr. Singer calling the reduced opportunity to take occupational education courses "catastrophic for a group, some of whom may only be staying in school to take those classes," and with Mr. Kadamus and others looking at the workplace implications of a declining pool of skilled labor for the future, the Board of Regents will be studying this issue at its September meeting.
At this September session, the Regents will also be discussing reaction to a proposal they sent out to 15,000 people across the state on AIDS education in the schools. Dr. Deborah Cunningham, assistant to the deputy commissioner for elementary, secondary and continuing education of the New York State Education Department, said that the proposed instructional guidelines went to school officials, members of the clergy and parent groups.
The topic of how to include AIDS instruction in the curriculum is already under discussion in many Long Island districts. The president of Nassau's Council of School Superintendents, Dr. James J. Tolle of the Malverne District, said some districts have brought AIDS education into their health programs. Both the Nassau and Suffolk Superintendent Associations have established committees on AIDS education.
"There's no question that we should have a comprehensive program," Dr. Murphy of Boces 3 said. He added that many districts are likely, in advance of a state requirement, "to come up with their own programs consistent with community sensitivities."