Six students attend classes in the red schoolhouse, which was...

Six students attend classes in the red schoolhouse, which was built in 1907 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Credit: James Carbone

With the small red schoolhouse in New Suffolk now set to close its doors at the end of the school year, some parents and officials are hoping other doors of opportunity will open for its students.

Voters in that North Fork community on Tuesday approved, 83-14, shuttering the three-room school and sending its handful of students to another school district.

The plan will turn New Suffolk into a “non-instructional” district, meaning students will be sent elsewhere on a tuition basis. The three-member school board last month selected the Southold Union Free School District as the system students would attend instead.

"This is not a reflection on our teachers, it is simply a numbers issue," New Suffolk Superintendent Joseph Vasile-Cozzo said. "With six students, the school simply cannot offer what Southold school district can."

New Suffolk, with a school for prekindergarten through sixth grade, already sends 17 students in the district to Southold for grades 7-12. A seventh student who attends the schoolhouse, from Mattituck, likely will return there, Vasile-Cozzo said.

Parents say the schoolhouse built in 1907 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places — doesn’t provide the best learning environment, and their kids don’t get to socialize with peers. A larger school also offers resources like extracurricular activities and mental health counselors.

Brooke Dailey, of New Suffolk, said her daughter Lydia, 13, was able to start playing the violin when she started seventh grade in Southold this year.

Dailey, 46, is a board member and alumna of the New Suffolk school who advocated for the change to provide students with more opportunities.

"It was always small, but the social part of [school] is big," she said Wednesday, recalling that her grade level had about six students in 1990. "When they transfer over to seventh grade, they don't know anybody. When I was there, there were six of us. We all had each other."

Now that voters have approved the change, two full-time teachers and several part-time staff, including physical education, art and music teachers, are slated to be laid off. The superintendent and district clerk will remain employed, and the schoolhouse will remain in use as a community center or leased to a day care or prekindergarten program. Adjacent ballfields would be open to the public as green space, officials said.

New Suffolk is one of five districts on Long Island designated as being under fiscal stress in a report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in January.

The report said the district was under “significant stress,” which school leaders attributed to dwindling enrollment and rising educational costs.

State education data shows enrollment has fluctuated over 25 years, reaching a high of 21 students in the 2010-11 school year. 

The district, which has an annual operating budget of $1.2 million, is one of 22 across the state considered “chronically stressed.”

Classroom instruction nearly ended in 2018 amid financial woes associated with paying back wages and benefits for a reinstated teacher. The vote was canceled after the district reached a settlement with the teacher.

The agreement with Southold will be formally ratified at a board meeting Tuesday. The four-year contract will take effect next school year. Tuition costs weren’t immediately available.

Southold Superintendent Anthony Mauro said Monday the new students would be “a welcome addition” in that district, which enrolls 689 students.

With John Asbury

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