Study: Sag Harbor School Enrollment on Downward Slide

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Empty seats in a classroom at Pierson Middle-High School. Christine Sampson photo

Estimates released Monday by the Sag Harbor School District administration show this year’s student enrollment down from last year and small decreases projected in the student population in the next nine years as well.

Enrollment shrank by 25 students from the 2017-18 school year to the 2018-19 school year, from 951 students down to 926, although superintendent Katy Graves noted Monday this is an unofficial number that won’t be solidified until the New York State official reporting deadline on Thursday. Through 2027, enrollment could fall — in increments of around 10 to 30 students per year —down to 804 students, or a total decline of roughly 13 percent from 2018.

Figures are tallied from kindergarten through 12th grade, as the state does not count prekindergarten in official enrollment totals. The projections were compiled by the Western Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which takes into account factors such as births, general population trends and local home sales and occupancy rates, in 2017.

“We have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of births both in New York State and in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and that results directly in the number of students attending school,” Ms. Graves said.

Compounding that are skyrocketing prices of single-family homes in the local area and a high percentage of homes that are considered vacant — vacation homes, Ms. Graves explained. In 2015, according to the Western Suffolk BOCES data, more than 51 percent of houses in the Sag Harbor School District were considered vacant.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Ms. Graves said the Western Suffolk BOCES projections are sometimes off-the-mark, as they do not account for students from the Sagaponack and Wainscott school districts who choose to attend Sag Harbor over East Hampton when they finish the third grade. Nor do they take into account the number of students whose families pay tuition for them to come to Sag Harbor from elsewhere. This year, there are 31 students combined coming from Sagaponack and Wainscott, up from 23 last year, and there are 23 students paying tuition, up from 14 last year.

The projections “have been very close,” Ms. Graves said, but tuition and school choice are pieces “they’re going to have to take a look at.”

She also predicted the changes at the former Stella Maris Regional School would have the effect of ticking enrollment upward. An early childhood education center is in the works at the facility, which the district purchased from St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church via community referendum in 2016. The plan, school officials have said, is to move the district’s prekindergarten there and also lease space to an on-site daycare provider whom parents could pay for services.

“My prediction is that with daycare … to round out a child’s day, I anticipate those numbers are going to go up,” Ms. Graves said. “It just makes sense because we do know that parents don’t send their children to pre-K here because they don’t have someone to pick them up.”

The district has also released a survey seeking input from the community on the renaming of the former Stella Maris school building. Postcards and emails with information on how to take the survey were sent out by the district this week. Scott Fisher, Sag Harbor’s director of technology, said the district had received about 75 responses in the first couple of hours alone. The survey is available on the school website at sagharborschools.org, as well as at the John Jermain Memorial Library and the main offices of the two school buildings.

In other Sag Harbor school news, the school board welcomed a student representative back to a seat at the table for the first time in many years. Kelly Kinsella, president of the Pierson High School’s student government chapter, will share the responsibility with vice president Graham DiLorenzo, secretary Phoebe Miller and treasurer Reilly Rose Schombs. Kelly is the daughter of Susan Kinsella, a former Sag Harbor School Board member.

“Her mom was an awesome board member,” Ms. Graves said. “I told her she doesn’t have to take any homework home with her, but we do want to hear her voice.”

During the public input session, resident Sharon Botto inquired about transportation for students who attend private schools or religious schools. She said she had analyzed the school calendars, and said there are four days that nonpublic schools are open that Sag Harbor School District buses don’t operate. She said 15 children are affected.

“We’re all taxpayers. We all pay for this service,” Ms. Botto said. “In addition, most of those parents are working people who have to be late to work or find someone else to take their child.”

Ms. Graves told Ms. Botto she would follow up on her inquiry.

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