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Long IslandEducation

Number of young schoolchildren on LI declines

On the first day of class at the

On the first day of class at the Dryden Street school in Westbury, teacher Brenda Bazalar reads a book to her kindergarten class. (Sept. 8, 2009) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Long Island's kindergarten and elementary school enrollment is declining and students in schools at all levels are becoming more diverse, according to a new census survey that looks at data from the past five years.

While high school enrollments rose over the past decade, according to U.S. Census data and American Community Survey figures, both Nassau and Suffolk had fewer younger schoolchildren, according to estimates from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Roberta Gerold, superintendent of the Middle Country school district, said she has watched a parent population growing older. "I think it is our birthrate, and when you look at census estimates, our kids are getting older and parents are not moving out of the community," said Gerold, discussing her district's enrollment decline of about 460 students since the 2000 census to a total of 10,367 today. "We see the bubble. We are not having a lot of young couples move in."

The survey estimated kindergarten/elementary school enrollment in Nassau dipped almost 5 percent. In Suffolk, enrollment slid 3.2 percent. Over the same period, high school enrollment rose 10 percent in Nassau and 18 percent in Suffolk.

Local experts said the overall school population peaked in 2004 and has shifted to a slow but steady decline since then.

"We have been projecting a slight annual decrease in enrollment on an Islandwide basis and the numbers . . . tend to support what we had anticipated," said Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES. The average Long Island public school district's enrollment has dropped about a half a percentage each year for the past five years, he said.

Demographers from Western Suffolk BOCES expect enrollments to drop 2.4 percent over the next three years. Declining enrollments and budget pressures have led at least three local districts - Mineola, Lindenhurst and Smithtown - to close or consider closing school buildings.

"Schools are going to have to consider some more dramatic steps," Bixhorn said.

In the meantime, school districts continue to see increases in student diversity, though some reported the influx has leveled off in recent years.

Asians comprise nearly 52 percent of students in the Herricks school district. "The richness of the community obviously affects everything that goes on in the schools," superintendent Jack Bierwirth said.

There are 29,000 English Language Learners enrolled in Long Island schools, Bixhorn said, and about 1,100 teaching positions focused on them. From 8 to 9 percent of the student population in the Southampton district has been receiving ESL services over the past decade, said Joaquin Mendez, director of ESL and dual language for the district. With Olivia Winslow

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