Enrollment in the East Hampton School District is expected to decrease by 210 students over the next five years, a drop of about 12 percent from current enrollment levels. That finding was made by the Western Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which presented it to the school board at its meeting on Tuesday night.
The analysis is tied to plummeting birth rates in Suffolk County over the last five to 10 years, particularly on the South Fork, where the rate is expected to remain low as the cost of housing suitable for families remains high.
The study drew on census data, real estate transactions, and information from the State Departments of Education and Health, the National Center for Health Statistics, the East Hampton Town Planning Board, and other sources.
Barbara Graziano, the recently retired manager of the Western Suffolk BOCES Office of School Planning and Research, said the analysis also accounted for enrollment trends in three of the five smaller districts that send students to East Hampton after they age out of their home schools: Amagansett, Montauk, and Springs. (The Wainscott and Sagaponack Schools also send some students to East Hampton, but those districts do not have exclusive matriculation agreements with East Hampton.)
“I’m often asked about the accuracy of our projections,” Ms. Graziano told the school board. “Our overall enrollment projections fall within a 4-percent margin of error.”
“This is what we see in almost every district we work with,” she added, noting that Western Suffolk BOCES has recently performed similar studies for districts in Southampton, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson, Sachem, Middle Country, Smithtown, Commack, and more.
The statistics are telling: In 2000, 30 percent of households within the school district had school-age children. The number declined to 28.9 percent by 2010, and to 24 percent in 2020.
Between 2012 and 2022, the BOCES study identified a drop of 76 students (4.1 percent) across all East Hampton grades. It concluded that the district will lose 210 more by the end of the 2026-27 school year.
As of yesterday, said District Superintendent Adam Fine, enrollment was 1,824 students: 1,034 at the high school, 253 at the middle school, and 537 at the elementary school, including the in-house prekindergarten program.
Whereas kindergarten cohorts had ranged in enrollment from 67 to 113 students between 2012 and 2022, that number is expected to drop to between 63 and 78.
Mr. Fine is not overconcerned as of now, he said, with the impact of the projected 12-percent decrease in total enrollment over the next five years. He estimates that it will span all grades, amounting to just a handful of students in each school each year.
“I don’t see much changing,” he said, “but if we get to the point where we’re having retirees, we’re much less likely to replace those people.”
“The last thing I want to do — and I think it’s because we’re in a very unique position here — is to start cutting and removing things,” Mr. Fine continued. “The school is the heart of the community.
If you look at 210 [students] out of a high school, that’s like 10 sections and almost two teaching positions, but we’re not going to see that.”
In other school board news, the district has hired a teacher for its much-anticipated, brand-new automotive technology program. Ted Page, a local mechanic who is in the process of gaining a teaching certification in the area of “trade subjects,” will lead the classes, at the district’s bus depot on Springs-Fireplace Road. There are 11 students enrolled in the program, which will cover periods one through four each day. “He’s really a win-win for the East Hampton community,” Mr. Fine said.
Also, the board has extended Mr. Fine’s contract as superintendent for another five years, through June 30, 2028. His salary this year will be $262,000, which will increase to $283,598 in the final year. He is eligible for longevity pay as well, and will be allotted 14 vacation days and 20 sick days.
School officials are now taking public comment on their districtwide safety plan, which Mr. Fine said is purposefully “very, very general. The individual [building] plans are filed in conjunction with discussions with local law enforcement, and they are highly confidential.” Community members have until Sept. 14 to send in feedback on the plan, which can be found in its entirety on the school district’s website.