A plea to save a school: Town Board hears the struggles of learning center

COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board met in work session Tuesday.
COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board met in work session Tuesday.

A nearly four decades old Shelter Island institution is in danger of becoming just a memory.

That was the message Kelly Surerus, a board member of the Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center, brought to Tuesday’s Town Board work session packed with supporters.

The learning center— formerly the Shelter Island Preschool — is in danger of closing because of a financial crunch, Ms. Surerus said. She asked for the board’s and the community’s help with funding and ideas on how to proceed.

With the public Shelter Island School now offering 4-year olds a full-day Pre-K program, that loss of revenue for the private learning center is making it unfeasible to take only 2- or 3-year-old students, Ms. Surerus said.

“It’s so important,” she added. “We do so much on this Island taking care of seniors, but not as many resources are geared toward our younger Islanders.”

Kathleen Lynch, a member of the Shelter Island Board of Education, spoke in favor of coming to the aid of the learning center.

All of the town’s surrounding communities have early childhood programs and the Island is in danger of  “being left behind … we really have nothing.”

Children are not getting a head start on education, but parents suffer as well, Ms. Lynch said. “People who can’t afford a nanny or full-time childcare or stay home from work” are left with few or no options, she said.

Ms. Surerus noted that both she and her husband work. “To be our age and be here, even with two incomes, it’s next to impossible,” she said.

No child, she added, has ever been turned away from the learning center because of a family’s inability to pay.

Ms. Lynch said other communities have “multi-generational” programs, where space in nursing homes or senior centers is used for early childhood education.

“It says we’re taking care of both ends of the spectrum,” Ms. Lynch said. “Helping young families to stay here. There are a lot of options to talk about.”

Recently filing as a nonprofit with the state allows the learning center to take tax-deductible donations. Ms. Surerus thanked the Shelter Island 10K Community Fund, the Lions’ Club and the Shelter Island Educational Foundation for their support.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty invited learning center board members to a meeting next week with the town’s grant writer, Jennifer Mesiano Higham, for a brain storming session on possible financial help.

“Keeping young families here is how you keep nurses, teachers on the Island,” Ms. Surerus said. “We can’t lose programs that make it sustainable to be here.”

In other business: Every year municipalities are required to comply with “Multiple Separate Storm Sewer Systems” (MS4) mandates linked to the federal Clean Water Act. Town Attorney Laury Dowd has filed the compliance and gave a presentation to the Town Board on the methods the town is taking to insure storm water runoff from roads is not negatively impacting the environment.

Ms. Dowd noted that Dering Harbor and Fresh Pond had previously been listed as “impaired water bodies,” but were no longer on the list. Resident Vincent Novak questioned that, noting there have been no recent tests to indicate that Fresh Pond is safe.

He urged the town, as he has in the past, to post signs warning swimmers at Fresh Pond about health safety.
The 2016 MS4 report can be found on the town’s website at

The board is moving toward drafting legislation for site plan reviews for commercial properties, but it’s unclear if the reviews will be conducted by the Town Board or the Planning Board.

Brent Surerus, president of Shelter Fireworks, said this year’s event will be July 9. The fireworks event was taken over by a private group last year when the Chamber of Commerce declined to produce it. The group crowd sourced for funds, but this year has incorporated as a charity and can receive tax-deductible donations. Mr. Surerus congratulated Councilwoman Mary Dudley for being the first to donate to the event.