WOODBURY - As the debate intensifies over how to put a cap on soaring property tax bills, suggestions have been made that some of Long Island's 124 school districts merge or consolidate services.

Officials are scrambling for new ways to pool their purchasing power. As part of that effort, Nassau BOCES is building a single fiber-optic computer and phone network to serve dozens of districts. Also, many local districts jointly purchase everything from crayons to athletic supplies.

"We get a better deal because it's a much bigger pool of people looking for business than a single district," says Herricks School District Superintendent Dr. John Bierwirth.

Critics, however, say school districts would save even more if they were to combine some of their back-office jobs, or even merge.

"Maybe we don't need 120 separate back offices, 120 business operations," says former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

In two decades, only four districts on Long Island have consolidated, even though the state offers millions of dollars in aid to do it.

Eastport-South Manor School District Superintendent Mark Nocero says when the two districts merged, it allowed them to offer AP classes and expand their sports programs and extracurricular activities.

School consolidation remains an elusive goal. A Marist College poll taken last month shows that only one out of three Long Islanders believe there are too many school districts in the state.

Some analysts say Long Islanders oppose school consolidation because of racial fears, or because they don't want to subsidize the less-wealthy school districts. For extended interviews with Tom Suozzi and Herricks School District Superintendent Dr. John Bierwirth, go to your digital cable box and select iO Extra on Ch. 612.

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