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Housing Crisis Hits Home for Schools

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 05:45

The East Hampton School District has a homework assignment for local government leaders and community members: Brainstorm solutions to a teacher-and-staff shortage that's projected only to get worse because of the lack of affordable housing options here.

The due date? Tuesday, Oct. 26, when the East Hampton School Board will hold a forum on the issue at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

"We all know there's a problem. We don't need to sit here and discuss a problem," Adam Fine, the district superintendent, said during Tuesday's board meeting. It needs to be "solution-oriented," he said.

Across the East End, Long Island, and even New York State, bus drivers are in short supply — so much so locally that this weekend, East Hampton's sports teams will start playing games on Sundays because many visiting districts don't have enough drivers to take athletes back and forth on weekdays. According to OLAS, a BOCES-hosted online database of education jobs, there are more than 40 openings for school nurses and substitute nurses in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Librarians, special education professionals, science teachers, and teachers of English as a new language are also in short supply.

East Hampton officials say unless something is done here to address housing for people who work in schools, they won't be able to sustain the programs and services that are considered a backbone of the community. Taxpayer-funded salaries, they say, cannot keep up with rising house prices, whether one is buying or renting.

We need "help from the state, help from the town," J.P. Foster, the school board president, said. Is it "houses on property we already own? Lease or purchase? We have to hash those things out. We're looking for help from state and town partners."

Mr. Fine also announced that 47 people, most of them students plus a handful of family members, received their first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Sept. 13 in the district's first on-site vaccine clinic. There were a total of 50 doses available. He said it went "smooth as can be" with the help of many volunteers, and he thanked Marcia Diaz, a bilingual district employee, who spent the day acting as an interpreter.

With Stony Brook Southampton Hospital as a partner, the district will also be offering regular surveillance testing for unvaccinated students. "Their parents would have to provide consent, and it would be done by one of our nurses," Mr. Fine said.

Charles Soriano, the middle school principal, said a "record number" of after-school clubs will be starting up shortly. There are 15, including a brand-new board game club. "We want kids interacting socially after school safely, especially those who don't have sports, like the sixth graders," he said.

It was also announced that East Hampton has received a special award from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association in acknowledgement of going "above and beyond" in promoting sportsmanship and integrity among its student athletes.

Also on Tuesday, the school board heard an updated enrollment report. With a total of 1,827 students at its three campuses — including prekindergarten students and kids from Springs, Amagansett, Montauk, Wainscott, and Sagaponack — enrollment is stable at just nine students more than last year's numbers at this time. There are 977 in the high school, 291 middle school students, and 559 at the elementary school.

The registration flurry has calmed down now that school has been in session for about two weeks, although Karen Kuneth, the elementary school principal, said six new prekindergarten students registered on Tuesday alone.

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