Sullivan West faces enrollment drop
By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON In the Sullivan West school district, they’re not just worried about the economic markets dipping.
Enrollment is, too.
“The enrollment data ... shows a much faster decline than we had expected,” Superintendent Ken Hilton told the board at its meeting Tuesday night.
The district’s student population dropped by 72 students this year, a 5.1 percent decrease year-to-year and a 16.3 percent total loss in the past five years.
The incoming kindergarten class itself had 32 fewer pupils than the district had projected. Though 100 live births were recorded in the district five years ago, the kindergarten class size stands at 68 this year.
“Boy, were we off,” said Hilton.
Noting that the district keeps track of home- and private-schooled students, he added, “Clearly, we’re having people move out.”
He also related a chat with Monticello Schools Superintendent Pat Michel, who told him he had to add a new section for kindergarten due to an increasing student population in that district.
Board member Angela Daley asked if the administration was planning to do another five-year enrollment projection, which Hilton said would be presented at a November 13 community forum at the high school in Lake Huntington at 7 p.m. Open to the entire public, it will focus on facilities and student needs.
But that’s only one of the district’s worries.
A state aid cut is likely for the next school year, and Hilton fears a mid-year cut may be coming in this school year.
According to board member Shaun Sensiba, that could amount to a $300,000 loss in this year alone.
“We should, as a board, have some discussion,” he urged.
“I think we have to plan ahead,” agreed board member Noel van Swol. “... We have to be prepared to bite the bullet.”
Hilton agreed but asked the board to not institute a hiring freeze yet. In the meantime, he said, “I do think it’s prudent for all of us to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
In concert with the business staff, he’ll prepare a list of recommended economy measures for the board to review.
That may be revealed at the next board meeting, scheduled for October 30 at 7 p.m. at the high school. What will certainly be discussed, however, is the elementary school’s roof.
Already, the board’s Facilities Needs Committee has been shown photos of the deterioration of the slate roof covering the 1938 wing of the school in Jeffersonville, and the areas immediately surrounding the school walls have been cordoned off in case a 15-pound tile breaks loose and falls to the ground.
Based on that report, van Swol is ready to make the case that a diversion of funds six years ago from the elementary school’s renovations to the high school’s construction led to this situation, but Hilton asked for the board to hold off on further discussion until he can make a full presentation at the October 30 meeting.
Either then or at the November 13 forum, Hilton will also discuss the status and fates of the closed Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley campuses, which board members complained has not been talked about outside of the Facilities Needs Committee.
Though the maintenance of both buildings continues to drain the district’s coffers, Hilton told Daley and fellow concerned board member Richard Tegnander that unspecified issues (of which the board is evidently aware) warrant keeping the facilities.
“I don’t want to think about unloading those buildings at this point,” said Hilton.