By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY Most of Sullivan County’s eight public school districts are wrestling with enrollment declines and the consequences thereof.
The Democrat recently contacted all those districts, plus Sullivan County BOCES, to determine where their enrollments and future plans stand.
The first portion of this story covering Eldred, Fallsburg and Liberty school districts ran in this past Tuesday’s edition.
“We’ve made considerable cuts to our staff to be in line with our enrollment,” says Livingston Manor Superintendent Deborah Fox, referring to a reduction in 18 full-time-equivalent staff positions last year.
Nevertheless, with the student population plummeting 28 percent in the last decade (from 701 in 2000-01 to 503 this year), Manor is seriously considering further consolidation, even merger.
“The more difficult part of this is the emotional reaction by community members,” acknowledges Fox.
That’s stymied past merger plans between Manor and Roscoe, its closest and smallest neighbor. And Roscoe’s deepening reluctance is forcing Manor to look at Liberty, Tri-Valley, even Sullivan West for answers.
Manor has found some efficiencies by transferring its accounts payable duties to BOCES’ Centralized Business Office, but Fox worries what the future may bring.
“Governor Cuomo could wake up tomorrow and say that anybody under ‘x’ enrollment is merging,” she points out. “We have not heard that, but it is a possibility.
“I think the economy has changed all the rules of the game,” Fox added.
With the largest enrollment in the county, Monticello would appear to have a “cushion” of sorts to declines in population.
Indeed, its elementary grades often feature swings in enrollment as much as 100 students a year, says Superintendent Daniel Teplesky, who just joined Monticello this summer.
Nevertheless, the district has seen a decline, from 3,623 students in 2002-03 to 3,151 this year a 13 percent reduction.
Add in millions of dollars in state aid reductions, and the district has become a poster child for consolidation, cutting around 70 positions in the past two years alone and painfully closing down the Duggan Elementary School in White Lake.
“I think we’re in two different places right now,” observes Roscoe Superintendent John Evans, speaking of Roscoe’s neighbor to the east, Livingston Manor.
The two districts have on and off discussed consolidations both big and small in past years, including merging, but have only gotten as far as sharing some staff and sports teams.
A push by Manor to begin a full-fledged merger study this year was shot down by Roscoe’s board late last year, and a recent community forum reinforced a survey that illustrated Roscoe residents’ concerns about a loss of control, identity and stable finances.
“It’s a controversial topic,” admits Evans. “And it seems like there are very few people in the middle.”
But Roscoe’s enrollment has not been immune to fluctuations. Currently standing at 260, the population is 22 students fewer than in 2002-03, translating to a 7.8 percent loss a large drop in the tiniest district in Sullivan County.
And Evans is keen to find efficiencies, saying he looks to collaborate with Manor anytime there’s a retirement or vacancy.
The two districts split costs on afterschool transportation for shared athletic teams, as well though Manor is indicating it may end that arrangement if a full merger study isn’t undertaken.
Despite the community reluctance, however, Evans predicts that consolidation discussions will continue to be necessary up to and including merger.