Suffolk Closeup: The flight of the young

COURTESY IMAGE There is a trend of young people leaving Suffolk County.

I was unaware of a problem that is hitting most Suffolk schools hard, although the Shelter Island School is holding the line — a declining number of students.

That was until I talked with a former college journalism student of mine, Tim Laube, now an administrator in the Eastport-South Manor Central School District and previously the business manager at the Shelter Island School.

“The drop in enrollment,” said Mr. Laube, “is directly attributable to affordability — the cost of living on Long Island.”

The cost of housing is now very high in Suffolk and therefore many young people are leaving who would have had children who would go to school here.

“They go off to college and don’t come back,” Tim said.

Where are they going?

Tim spoke of a meeting he attended while working as Shelter Island School business manager where a speaker told of “20 new school buildings a year” being constructed in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, in Eastport-South Manor, where Tim is assistant superintendent for business and operations, there’s been a reduction in students since 2010, when the total was 3,888, to now 3,268, a drop of 16 percent.”

As a result, the district has had to reduce staff and hiring. A further decline in students is foreseen.

From Sag Harbor, my school district, I obtained a detailed “Long Range Planning Study,” a “Demographic and Enrollment Analysis” covering 2018 to 2027. It was done for the district by the Western Suffolk BOCES Office of School Planning and Research. The study says the district “is expected to experience a decline in district K-12 enrollment during the projection period.”

Cited are “the challenges young adults face with high rent costs and with saving money for the down payment required to purchase a home.” Also pointed to are “significant student loan debt” and “lower starting salaries.”

My wife and I purchased our first house, a seven-room home in Sayville, for $18,000 in 1964. A comparable house today would cost many, many times that. Newsday reported last year that the median sale price of a house in Suffolk was $380,000, citing data from the Multiple Listing Services of Long Island. The story’s headline: “LI HOME PRICES UP AGAIN,” and the article, noted this was a 7-percent increase from the year before. The median sale price in adjacent Nassau, meanwhile, was $525,000.

What would be the payments on a mortgage on a $380,000 house? An online “mortgage calculator” says with 4.5 percent interest, payments on a 30-year mortgage would be $1,925 a month. Then you have to figure on property taxes, 70 percent of which goes to schools. With other expenses, if two people are involved, both have to work to scrape by.

That’s why it’s hello South Carolina, hello upstate New York, etc.

For Southampton and East Hampton towns, the median prices of houses are astronomical.

“The median price of homes currently listed in Southampton is $2,100,000,” reported Zillow last year. “The median price of homes currently listed in East Hampton is $1,595,000.”

Shelter Island housing is not much less in price. Zillow reported in 2018: “The median price of homes currently listed in Shelter Island is $1,475,000.” It said the “median home value in Shelter Island is $1,151,500.”

According to the online “mortgage calculator,” at 4.5 percent, payments on a $1 million mortgage over 30 years would be $5,066 a month. To make payments of that kind you have to be loaded.

Now, not every school district in Suffolk has declining student enrollment. On stable Shelter Island, enrollment in the pre-K to 12th-grade Shelter Island School has “been steady,” said Superintendent Christine Finn last week. “We watch enrollment very carefully. It’s 209 this year and was 213 last year.”

But that’s because one family with four children moved to Greenport, she explained. But “all over Long Island,” Ms. Finn said, who previously was a principal in the Patchogue-Medford School District, “declines in enrollment have been a trend.” A key, she added, is high housing costs. When she graduated from Islip High School in 1980, it had a class of 400. “Last year the graduating class was 280,” she said.

There’s a desperate need on Long Island for affordable housing to deal with declining school populations and other issues. Governments on several levels, including Shelter Island Town and its Community Housing Board, are taking steps to encourage it.

At a forum on affordable housing organized by The Sag Harbor Express, Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said: “When a workforce can’t live in the community, you lose part of your soul.”

And East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said: “We look around and see how the cost of housing is tearing away at the fabric of our community.”