L.I. School Ousted by Inferno Starts on Bittersweet Note

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBCNewYork
    South Bay kids

    Moms fought back tears as they said goodbye. Kindergartners shuffled to class with confused looks and oversized backpacks. Teachers struggled to start a new routine and learn the kids' names.

    In many ways, the first day of class at West Babylon's South Bay elementary school looked all too familiar.

    "I cried. She didn't cry -- but I cried," said smiling mom, Layla Babater of daughter, Eviana, 5.

    "I worried whether she would get lost in there," added mom, Jacqueline Moody of daughter Caitlin.

    This school year, however, brings unique challenges to South Bay's 310 students and its faculty. They will spend it in a temporary home -- a former parochial school -- after South Bay's original school building was gutted by fire in February and a renovated school won't be ready until September, 2011.

    "If we could handle the fire, I think we can handle anything," said South Bay principal Jo Ann Scott.

    That optimism is being put to the test. The temporary school building has no gymnasium, no library, no kitchen for student lunches and no art room.

    As a result, art teacher Mindy Fisher was forced to push a cart carrying her supplies from class to class.

    "You have to be creative," said Fisher. "Do more with less and less, until you're finally doing everything with nothing."

    It's a fact of life hitting home in many of Long Island's 120-plus school districts.

    With less education aid from Albany lawmakers, program cuts and salary givebacks by teachers, it's clear educators will have to take a new approach to the 2010-11 school year.

    "We're operating on bare bones budgets," contended Jay Breakstone, the president of the Nassau-Suffolk school boards association. "There's no fat in our budgets anymore."

    Taxpayer advocacy groups would no doubt take issue with that contention. Many Long Island school districts continue to operate with budgets in excess of one hundred million dollars.

    Still, at South Bay, educators don't seem to be lamenting what has been lost. The fire that destroyed almost everything has taught a lesson other educators may have to draw from in difficult economic times.

    "We learned as a group that all the stuff we lost was just stuff," said Jo Ann Scott. "As long as we're together as a group, with our students, we can get by."