Study projects enrollment to decline further

WHSD committee to use data to decide on use of empty school space


A demographic study presented by Western Suffolk BOCES last week showed declines in enrollment in the West Hempstead school district. The study, school officials said, will help the district school board’s Space Utilization Committee decide how the district can use empty space at the Chestnut Street School — formerly home to the West Hempstead Public Library — and the Eagle Avenue School, which Nassau BOCES will be vacating in June 2013.

According to Superintendent John Hogan, at the district’s request, Western Suffolk BOCES began the demographic study of the district and its facilities earlier this year. The results of the study, Hogan said, will help guide the committee’s operations.

At the committee’s second meeting, at West Hempstead High School on Aug. 14, Joan Townley of Western Suffolk BOCES presented the study’s results to more than 20 residents. According to Townley, the district’s enrollment declined by 8.6 percent from 2005 to 2011 — more than double the Long Island average (4.2 percent) and Nassau County average (3.3 percent).

Townley explained that during that time, West Hempstead saw a decrease of 47 students, or 5.3 percent, at its elementary grades, a loss of 22 students — 4.5 percent — at the middle school and a decrease of 135 students — 13.6 percent — at the high school.

Hogan, who chairs the committee — which is composed of school officials, residents and community leaders — told the Herald that the group’s goal is to devise a plan to utilize the two properties that the district owns and to present the plan to the Board of Education by late October.

School officials said that both the Chestnut Street School, which has 9,783 square feet of vacant space, and the Eagle Avenue building, formerly known as Marion Delaney, which has 51,155 square feet, can generate future revenue for the district.

The Herald reported in February that declining enrollment is forcing Nassau BOCES to terminate its lease with the school district, and it will vacate the Eagle Avenue building it has occupied and used as a middle school for more than two decades. BOCES pays more than $500,000 in rent annually — income on which the district relies.

Much of the committee’s focus has been on Eagle Avenue, which the committee is deciding whether to use, sell or rent, and whether there will be a need for the school in the years to come.

But according to the study, there may not be a need to keep Eagle Avenue open. Between now and 2014, Townley said, enrollment is projected to continue to decline. Enrollment at the two elementary schools is expected to decline by 29 students (3.4 percent), and at the high school, by 67 students (7.8 percent). Townley noted, however, that enrollment at West Hempstead Middle School is projected to increase by 13 students (2.8 percent).

If Eagle Avenue is kept open, it would have to be accessible to those with disabilities. That, Hogan said, could cost the district. “Eagle Avenue would certainly cost money to bring up to speed,” he said.

“Western Suffolk BOCES has been involved in demographic studies since 1985, and have done over 800 studies throughout New York state,” Townley said. “We’ve looked at the demographics and enrollment trends here. Your [enrollment] has decreased, but not at the level we’ve seen in other places.”

Townley said that the decline could continue until 2021. The study projects that the district’s total enrollment —which is currently 2,144 — could drop to 2,008.

Of the decline from 2005 to 2011, Rosalie Norton, president of the West Hempstead Community Support Association, asked, “Does that take into account Island Park [students], or is it strictly students within West Hempstead?”

Townley said that the figure includes Island Park students, who have attended WHHS since 1969. Island Park high school students can choose to attend WHHS or Long Beach High School.

“The decrease has to do with fewer children being born,” Townley explained, “and fewer houses being sold.”

According to Townley, in 1990 there were nearly 40,000 births on Long Island, but only 32,000 in 2010. And in the West Hempstead district, births declined from 236 in 2002 to 168 in 2010.

Housing sales have plummeted across Long Island, she added, with home values decreasing. In 2004 in West Hempstead, 226 units were sold, compared with just 87 in 2010. The total number of occupied housing units also decreased, from 5,530 in 1990 to 5,353 in 2010.

Though private school enrollment has declined by 10.9 percent on Long Island and by 9.8 percent in Nassau County since 2005, in the West Hempstead district it has remained stable at 38.9 percent.

“Eagle Avenue, from my point of view, appears to be the big question,” Hogan said. “We will need the committee to come back together for discussion. We all have some thinking to do.”

The entire demographic study can be found on the district’s website. The Space Utilization Committee will meet on Aug. 28 to tour the Chestnut Street School at 7:30 p.m., followed by the Eagle Avenue School at 8 p.m. The tour is open to the public.