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Enrollment

The Selden campus of Suffolk County Community College. File photo

For the first time in nearly five years Suffolk County Community College is experiencing an enrollment increase, due in part to an increase in the number of students returning to the college from the fall 2022 to spring 2023 semesters, according to preliminary census data reported today to SUNY administration.

“Suffolk offers not only the lowest college tuition on Long Island but also an engaging and supportive on-campus environment that welcomes every student,” said Suffolk County Community College President Dr. Edward Bonahue. “By focusing on what students need from their college experience — whether it’s transfer to a bachelor’s degree or career-facing opportunities — our faculty and staff are committed to helping students achieve their goals.”

“We also know that many of our students balance college courses with work and family obligations, and we want to do everything we can to offer flexible options that meet their needs,” Bonahue said. MicroMesters are a great way to earn credits in a compressed time frame, he said.

“There are two 7.5-week MicroMesters within a traditional 15-week semester. MicroMester classes are faster-paced, meet more often and may appeal to recent high school graduates who are accustomed to attending classes five days per week and completing daily assignments in a shorter time frame,” Bonahue explained.

“Community College state funding is tied to enrollment” said College Board of Trustees Chair E. Christopher Murray.  “Enrollment increases our revenue and fees as well as New York State’s contribution to our College,” he said. “Over the last 18 months, the college has made a focus on the students’ experience its highest priority, has expanded outreach to Hispanic students and families with bilingual marketing materials, and has raised the visibility of career-facing programs and short-term workforce certificates and the college is now seeing the benefits in terms of growth.”

“At Suffolk, there are signs of a promising enrollment recovery, particularly with the number of first-time students enrolling at the college and students who are continuing their studies at Suffolk,” said Suffolk’s Interim Vice President for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness Kaliah Greene.  “This mid-semester snapshot shows enrollment increases at every campus and in nearly every student category, including new students, continuing students, and transfer students.”  The college also expects to report increases in the number of high school and non-credit workforce students being served.

According to institutional enrollment data, year-over-year spring enrollment grew by nearly three percent or 367 students, from 13,982 to 14,349 students. The college’s full-time equivalent, a measurement that converts all enrollment into a common standard, also increased one percent.

“The real story is the shift in persistence of students we’re seeing,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Patricia Munsch. “More students chose to continue their studies from the fall ’22 semester to the spring ’23 semester as compared to last year.”  Nationally, retention and persistence are indicators of whether students will progress and ultimately complete their college education. “The entire college is focused on engaging students in ways that encourage their persistence, and we are working hard to extend this enrollment momentum into the fall and next spring.”

 “The increase in enrollment we’re seeing right now is a credit to our employees,” added Bonahue. “Every single employee, every office in the college is committed to serving our students, and the enrollment increase we’re now seeing shows how we’re focused on that mission every day.”

Bellerose Elementary might be closing in Northport School District. Photo by Lina Weingarten

Members of the Northport-East Northport Board of Education discussed their opinions and preferences surrounding the district’s proposed future plan, ultimately approving a motion to implement one of the scenarios in the 2021-2022 school year. 

In a Dec. 3 virtual board meeting and workshop, the board unanimously approved a motion to implement Adapted Scenario A for the upcoming year — which involves closing Dickinson Avenue and Bellerose Avenue elementary schools. According to the Northport-East Northport district website, it also converts the remaining four elementary schools to grades K-4, and both middle schools will house grades 5-8. The high school remains the same, with grades 9-12.

“The priority throughout this entire process, going back over a year ago now, was to maintain the diversity and excellence of the educational program, and that includes class size goals,” Superintendent Robert Banzer said at the meeting. 

The front of Dickinson Elementary School. Photo by Lina Weingarten

Scenario A was developed in consultation with the SES Study Team, which began in June 2019, and reviewed by the Community Advisory Committee. Since its inception, Banzer said, the district heard from nearly 1,900 participants within the community, after asking what priorities the district should consider throughout their planning. 

“I do want to thank everybody for your participation in this process and giving us and the board the opportunity to hear from you,” he said. 

According to the district, the savings that could be saved from utilizing Scenario A would be between $5.2-6.6 million. 

The board also decided that the Brosnan building will continue to house administration unless a guaranteed buyer purchases the building, which would generate significant funds. 

This planning process was implemented to create a “roadmap” for future decisions surrounding the district in a cost-effective way but will continue to benefit students and members of the community. 

The district also noted on their website that many factors influenced the decision to implement the Future Study — primarily declining enrollment and the pending LIPA settlement.

They stated that since 2014, district enrollment has declined significantly from 5,748 students in the 2014-2015 school years, to 5,138 in the 2019-2020 school year. The decrease of 610 pupils equates to a -10.6% change over the past six years. 

According to the district’s website, the LIPA suit settlement, agreed upon by the Town of Huntington Board in September 2020, will result in a reduction of LIPA’s tax payments to the district from $86 million to $46 million over the next seven years. This settlement will result in an increase in property tax payments for community home and business owners. The Future Study will help to mitigate this increase. 

Annual enrollment numbers of 2012-13 school year compared to 2016-17. Graphic by TBR News Media

By Kyle Barr

A shadow hangs above the heads of Long Island’s school districts: The specter of declining enrollment.

“From last year, not a whole lot has changed, enrollment is still declining,” Barbara Graziano, the manager of the Office of School Planning and Research for Western Suffolk BOCES said. “What a lot of districts are seeing is there is a significant displacement between their graduating classes being larger than the following year’s kindergarten classes.”

School enrollment across Suffolk County has been in decline for nearly a decade. In last year’s annual report on enrollment, Western Suffolk BOCES, a regional educational service agency, said there was a 9.1 percent overall decline in enrollment in townships from Huntington to Smithtown from 2010 to 2016.

Students at Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center hop off the school bus. Photo from Middle Country school district

Between the 2006-07 and 2016-17 school years, Long Island saw a 6.2 percent decline in enrollment, according to Robert Lowry, the deputy director for advocacy, research and communications at the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Statewide enrollment declined 4.2 percent in the same period. Nearly every school district on Suffolk County’s North Shore has seen at least some decline, and the trend can have tangible effects on a district’s long- and short-term planning.

“Declining enrollment may push a district toward reconsidering staffing and whether it’s necessary to close a school,” Lowry said.

Smithtown Central School District in the 2012-13 school year had 10,317 students enrolled in the district, and four years later the number dropped more than a thousand to 9,241 in 2016-17. The declining enrollment was cited in 2012, with guidance from the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing, as the rationale behind the closing of Nesconset Elementary School, and again in 2017 when the district closed Brook Branch Elementary School.

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment,” Smithtown Superintendent James Grossane said in an email. “The district
will continue to monitor its enrollment trends to plan for the future.”

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment.”

— James Grossane

Experts cite factors like declining birthrate, aging population and changes in local immigration patterns as potentially having an impact on local enrollment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in May indicating the national birthrate in 2017 hit a 30-year low with 60.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. The national birthrate has been in general decline since the 1960s, but this most recent report is low even compared to 10 years ago when the birthrate was closer to 70 births per 1,000 women. Suffolk County’s population is also skewing older. Census data from the American Community Survey showed from 2010 to 2016 there was an estimated 28,288 less school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 19 living in the county. School closings are probably the most severe action districts tend to take to mitigate the effect of declining enrollment, but it is not the only option.

The Three Village Central School District has seen enrollment drop by about 900 students during the last decade. In its recently passed budget the district said it was making several staffing changes, including consolidating the roles of certain staff members. The district cited declining enrollment along with staff retirements and attrition for the changes, but also promised to add a new high school guidance counselor and an additional district psychologist to give attention to individual student’s mental health.

“While our district, like so many others in our area, have recently been experiencing a decline in enrollment, particularly at the elementary level, we have taken this opportunity to create efficiencies using current staff in order to lower class size and support a number of new initiatives, programmatic enhancements and student support services,” Cheryl Pedisich, the superintendent for Three Village schools said in an email.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid.”

— Al Marlin

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said lower enrollment allows for smaller class sizes and for more attention to the mental health of individual students.

“Our students today need a little bit more mental health support than students yesterday,” Eagen said. “Obviously we don’t need as many elementary sections, but we haven’t necessarily decreased our total staffing amount because we’ve been increasing our mental health supports.”

Even with those potential benefits, many districts are still trying to work out the long-term implications of lower enrollment. Al Marlin, a spokesperson for the New York State School Boards Association said enrollment has a large effect on how much state aid a school can procure.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid because New York’s school-aid distribution formula is based, in part, on enrollment numbers,” Marlin said in an email. “Declining enrollment also can make it more difficult for districts to sustain academic courses, including Advanced Placement courses and programs such as sports teams.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district conducted an enrollment study in 2015 that was updated for the 2017-18 school year. The study predicted the district will recede to 1,650 enrolled students by 2025, compared to 2,170 as of May. Along with a declining birthrate and an aging population, the district pointed to low housing turnover from 2008 to 2016 for part of the declining enrollment.

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, school classrooms, like those at Principal Christine Carlson’s Miller Avenue School, were expanded to include bathrooms. File photo by Kyle Barr

“It is difficult to predict the exact number, but it is fair to say that the enrollment decline in the district will be continuing in the near future,” SWR superintendent Gerard Poole said in an email.

Superintendents from SWR and Rocky Point school district both said they do not have any plans to close schools, but there is a possibility lower enrollment could affect the districts’ ability to apply for grants.

A few districts are breaking the trend. Huntington Union Free School District has actually seen an increase in school enrollment from 2012 to 2017, but Superintendent James Polansky said in the most recent years that increase has started to level off. Polansky did not want to speculate as to why enrollment in Huntington was not decreasing like other districts, but Graziano said it might be because the district is more diverse and attracts more immigration than nearby districts.

“Every district is different, they have to look at their own schools and communities to see how they deal with enrollment,” Polansky said.

Every year Western Suffolk BOCES releases a report that looks at schools’ current enrollment and compares it to previous years. Graziano, who is working on this year’s report, most likely to be released sometime this month, said the agency expects a continuing decline in school enrollment at least for the next several years. Though eventually, she said, the declining enrollment should level off as entering kindergarten class sizes stabilize. However, there is no telling when that might be. 

“Birthrates do not seem to be increasing, it doesn’t look like, as of right now, that’s going to turn around any time soon,” Graziano said. “But of course, we don’t have a crystal ball.”

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Housing committee member Annemarie Vinas addresses the school board at Tuesday’s meeting. Photo by Alex Petroski

With a possible deficit looming, the Smithtown Central School District board of education is moving closer to a decision on the fate of its eight elementary schools, following a public work session on Jan. 19 and a board meeting on Jan. 26.

Discussions between the school board and the community were getting emotional this week.

Superintendent James Grossane, with the help of Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Andrew Tobin, backed up his five recommendations to the school board from a November 2015 housing report with statistics at the work session on Jan. 19.

“I can’t tell you that 2017-18 will be the deficit year, but it’s becoming more and more likely as we look out ahead that 2017-18, maybe 2018-19, if we don’t get those type of increases, we know our expenses are going to go up, we’re going to certainly be facing it at some point,” Tobin said during the work session.

At the work session the board, along with Grossane, discussed the findings of the housing report that made five recommendations, labeled Options 1 through 5, for money saving measures.

Of the five recommendations, all suggested closing at least one of the district’s eight elementary schools. Grossane’s report said that closing one elementary school would save the district $725,000 annually.

Four of the five options included closing Branch Brook Elementary, which caused an uprising among district parents and started a Save Branch Brook movement that included petitions, Facebook pages, presentations to the school board and matching blue T-shirts.

Meredith Lombardi, a resident in the district, made a heartfelt plea to the board on Tuesday night.

“I was in sixth grade and my school district was redistricted,” Lombardi said. “I was ripped from my school. I was told that I was going to be going to a new one.”

Lombardi expressed a fear of putting her three children through the same experience that she had.

“If you allow one of our schools to close, the children affected will never be the same,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi was one of eight “Save Branch Brook” parents who stepped up to the podium to address the board Tuesday night. Katie Healy was another.

“Branch Brook is our most efficient and cost effective school,” Healy said. “Branch Brook is not the school to close. It is the wrong place and the wrong time. Closing Branch Brook will not solve our district’s problems, it will just add more,” Healy said.

At the time that the recommendations were made, it was unclear what lead Grossane to suggest closing Branch Brook as a course of action. Parents from the Save Branch Brook contingent conducted their own housing-committee-style research and concluded that Branch Brook was the elementary school least deserving of closure based on building occupancy, square foot per student, students per usable classroom and utility cost.

They also offered their own recommendation, Option 6, which suggested that based on their findings Smithtown Elementary was the school that should be closed.

It is now clear what led Grossane to suggest Branch Brook for closure, records showed. The number of elementary school classrooms that feed students to the district’s two high schools must be close.

Currently, the eight elementary schools send 116 classrooms worth of students to Smithtown West when they reach ninth grade and 114 to Smithtown East, according to Grossane.

If Branch Brook were closed and district boundaries were not redrawn, 114 elementary classes would still be fed to East, while 96 would be sent to West.

This is a discrepancy that Grossane is comfortable with. Closing Smithtown Elementary, for example, which was put on the table by the community’s Option 6, would result in 114 elementary classrooms for East and 84 for West.

Grossane said that there would be no choice but to redistrict if that was the option that the board selected.

Additionally, the district needs to select a school for closure that does not leave their potential elementary school capacity vulnerable to growing enrollment. Grossane’s report said that even if the board chose Option 5, which would close Branch Brook and Dogwood Elementary schools, the district would be able to handle roughly 800 additional elementary students on top of the approximately 3,700 elementary school students enrolled for 2015-16 across the eight schools.

Closing one or two elementary schools would obviously increase average class size, though Grossane called instances where any classes would reach a district implemented maximum of 28 students “outliers.”

“Every school has a grade level that runs almost to maximum,” Grossane said at the work session. “If we close a building and we operate with seven, those outliers would smooth out. They’d shift. There would still be an outlier occasionally in every building. I’m not going to tell you there isn’t going to be a class in fifth grade that doesn’t have a 28 at some point within the next six years after we close a building, because there definitely will be. But it’s usually one grade per building. Most times, the class averages even out across the district.”

Members of the school board responded to Grossane’s findings as well as the overwhelming public comments from the previous meetings.

“I have been doing a lot of housing committee work over my time on the board,” Theresa Knox, a trustee on the board of education said on the 19th. “I’ve been through this within my own neighborhood, as many of you know. My children were not affected by the closing of Nesconset, but all of the children on the end of my little dead-end block were. And I have to look at them everyday. And they’re doing great.”

Knox responded to parents concerned about which elementary school their kids would be sent to if closures were carried out. “It had better be, that all of our elementary buildings are fine, educational, welcoming, nurturing, caring places.”

Discussions about the sale and/or repurposing of the district’s administration headquarters on New York Avenue in Smithtown are ongoing as well.

Public comments are not permitted during public work sessions. More debate and eventually a decision are inevitable in the coming weeks.

A date has not yet been selected for a vote on the matter.

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Enrollment soars above school district's estimates

School board President Robert Sweeney explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

When Mount Sinai school board members proposed full-day kindergarten, they didn’t expect 160 students to enroll.

But the new program brought an enrollment increase of more than 40 percent, according to numbers the Mount Sinai Board of Education examined during a recent meeting, leading the district to hire another teacher.

By the end of the 2014-15 academic year, which had half-day kindergarten, there were around 112 students enrolled. With the 2015-16 enrollment, Mount Sinai had to bump up the number of teachers to seven.

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Superintendent Gordon Brosdal explains the full-day kindergarten enrollment in Mount Sinai. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In May, the board estimated that 125 students would enroll in the full-day program, but by mid-July, there were 151 students.

“All year long … we promoted full-day K at a number around 125 and [aid Mount Sinai received from the state] was based on that number,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. The increase “was a little bit alarming to the board and myself.”

Brosdal said the new program could be popular because full-day kindergarten is easier for a parent’s schedule. He expects several more children to enroll before class starts on Sept. 8, pushing kindergarten enrollment past 160 students.

According to Linda Jenson, assistant superintendent for business, the extra teacher the district had to hire added $85,000 to the budget, bringing the total program cost to $635,000.

Despite that increase, residents will not see taxes go up, Jenson said. Officials dug up the extra money from within the approved $56.7 million budget for 2015-16.

Mount Sinai lengthened the kindergarten day to give young students more time to learn subjects like language arts, math, social studies, science and music.

“We wanted to give our kids and our teachers adequate time to address Common Core, the demands of the curriculum,” Brosdal said.

In half-day kindergarten, students were in school from 8:55 a.m. until 11:05 a.m. With the full-day program, they will stay in the classrooms until 2:58 p.m.

Commack, Kings Park, Smithtown districts’ numbers dip while Huntington reports increase in students last year

Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Enrollment numbers are in flux for western North Shore school districts like Commack, Huntington, Kings Park and Smithtown, but superintendents are planning accordingly for the future.

A Western Suffolk BOCES report released in March pegged an overall 6.9 percent decline in enrollment numbers of elementary and middle school students from 89,532 in 2008 to 83,336 in 2014. Some of the districts suffering the larger numbers of enrollment dips included Commack, Kings Park and Smithtown — the largest district under the Western Suffolk BOCES region — but Huntington’s district, however, was named one of only three districts to see an enrollment increase over the last few years.

Overall regional enrollment is projected to decline by 5,396 students, or 6.5 percent, over the next three years, as elementary and middle school enrollment figures progress through the system, according to the report.

“The number of births in Suffolk County declined from 21,252 in 1990 to 15,521 in 2013 (preliminary data),” the report said. “Smaller kindergarten classes replaced larger exiting twelfth-grade classes each year since 2008. As these smaller cohorts continue to move through the system, losses are projected in elementary, middle and secondary grade enrollment from 2014 to 2017.”

Commack and Kings Park each suffered a little more than 13 percent dips in enrollment between 2008 and 2014, the report said — the greatest losses of any Western Suffolk BOCES district during that time. But Timothy Eagen, superintendent of schools for the Kings Park Central School District, said there was no need for panic.

Eagen said his district hit historical enrollment numbers back in 2006 at 4,192 students and then saw that figure slowly drop over the following years to 3,511 this year. Looking ahead, Kings Park projected 3,391 enrollment by the coming September.

“The reason for the enrollment decline is fairly simple,” Eagen said. “The incoming kindergarten class has been smaller than the graduating twelfth-grade class of the previous year since 2007.”

Eagen said enrollment numbers should stabilize in the not-too-distant future, as the district moves forward with a staff-neutral budget that allows for reductions in class sizes.

“Class sizes are finally moving in a good direction, and I have received some very positive feedback from the community on this,” he said.

The Commack School District, which did not return requests for comment, saw its enrollment figures drop from 7,830 in 2008 to 6,778 in 2014.

Smithtown’s numbers started at 10,844 in 2008 and dropped about 250 students per year to 9,704 by 2014, the report said, and school Superintendent James J. Grossane said the Smithtown Board of Education was working diligently to prepare for the shift. The superintendent said the district is bracing for an ongoing dip through the year 2023, when he projects a total enrollment of 7,316.

The BOCES report said Smithtown saw a 26 percent drop in housing sales between 2007 and 2012 but did note sales went up between 2012 and 2013 by 36.2 percent, showing a generally stabilizing market.

Meanwhile, Smithtown’s BOE convened a housing committee in April 2014 comprised of a broad cross section of school community members as well as members of the Smithtown community at large to analyze the district’s future housing needs in light of a continuous decline in enrollment, Grossane said. That committee made various recommendations to the BOE back in March, including closing one elementary school no sooner than the 2016-17 school year but did not specify which one. It also suggested the BOE considered a potential middle school closure for the 2022-23 school year if enrollment continues to decline at its current rate, pending a study from the BOE’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing.

The Huntington school district, which did not return requests for comment, was one of three districts to record enrollment increases between 2013 and 2014 at 1.8 percent alongside Copiague and Wyandanch, bringing its 2014 number up to 4,446 from 4,384 in 2008.

The same could not be said, however, for its neighboring school district in Northport-East Northport, where numbers declined from 6,410 in 2008 to 5,686 in 2014.