Montauk Superintendent Joshua Odom, who drives about an hour to...

Montauk Superintendent Joshua Odom, who drives about an hour to work from Southampton to Montauk, says it's hard to recruit and keep teachers on the East End because of the cost of living and long commute. Credit: John Roca

Turnover among teachers remains a challenge for school districts on Long Island's East End, where skyrocketing home prices and a lengthy commute have some district officials concerned about the future.

A Newsday analysis of teacher turnover data of Long Island's 124 public school districts, pulled from a state Education Department database, found that seven of the 10 districts with the highest percentage of teacher turnover were on the East End. Those districts were: New Suffolk, Amagansett, Montauk, Springs, Tuckahoe, Bridgehampton and Greenport.

The data covered the 2021-22 school year with the small North Fork district of New Suffolk, which enrolls roughly 10 pre-K to sixth-grade students, at the top of the list at 29%. The other top 10 districts had rates ranging from 17% to 25%.

“I do worry about young people starting their [education] careers and wanting to carve out a living,” Montauk Superintendent Joshua Odom said, referring to the high cost of living on Long Island.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A Newsday analysis of teacher turnover across Long Island found that seven of the top 10 districts with the highest turnover rate for teachers in 2022 were located on the East End.
  • A long commute and increasing costs of living in eastern Suffolk County, including the Hamptons and Montauk, have contributed to the issue, educators said.
  • Housing prices have hit records on Long Island's East End, far outpacing the $600,000 median price of a home in Suffolk. 

East End housing prices have soared since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, mainly because of a tight market and New York City residents moving there. East End prices have far outpaced the $600,000 median price of a home in Suffolk County. In the Hamptons, homes have reached a median price of $1.4 million and hit nearly $1 million on the North Fork for the first quarter of 2023.

In 2019, the median sale on the North Fork went for $629,000, Newsday reported.

“The further east you get — the cost of housing goes up and it becomes less and less likely for teachers to live in or near their districts,” said David Wicks, superintendent of Eastern Suffolk BOCES.

Elementary teachers on Long Island earn a median wage of $106,232, according to 2023 figures from the state Department of Labor. Those who work in secondary education earn about $131,024.

Odom said the housing situation presents a “very difficult dynamic.”

“Housing prices have skyrocketed right now and with current mortgage rates — it's a high bar to hurdle to purchase a home for a new teacher,” he said.

Odom, who has worked as an administrator in Springs and Montauk, said educators often cite the commute in exit interviews as the main reason for leaving. East End school officials have said some teachers work there to gain experience and then move to a district closer to their homes.

Getting to work, especially on the South Fork, presents challenges.

A trip from Hampton Bays to Southampton — a distance of about six miles — can sometimes take more than an hour in morning traffic, said Lars Clemensen, superintendent in Hampton Bays. Traffic along the mostly two-lane Montauk Highway that runs along the South Fork appears to have gotten worse over the years, commuters said.

Nancy Liubenov drives from her home in Flanders to Montauk, where she's an assistant principal. She is up at 4:30 a.m. and on the road by 5:30 for the drive. One time her commute of about 35 miles home took more than two hours, she said.

“The fortunate part is that I love my job and this is a great job,” she said. “I don’t have young children and I can sit in traffic.”

Liubenov has worked in other districts on the East End for 36 years, and it used to be affordable for tradespeople to live there, she said. But now there are more workers commuting to South Fork communities, adding to traffic, she said.

“I love being here. It's not an issue at all but there are times you say, 'I could have done 14 things at home if I got home at a reasonable hour,' " she said.

At times, she has traveled by the Long Island Rail Road to work. The train schedule does not fully accommodate the hours she needs to be at work, but she said many teachers travel by train.

Odom said he expects the rail trend to continue and likely grow.

“If I had a magic crystal ball, I think the public transit is going to play a big role in how we get people to work,” Odom said.

Some districts out east have added shuttle buses to and from the train stops, Wicks said.

Clemensen said that in addition to adding infrastructure for affordable housing and public transportation, solutions to hiring and retaining educators should include “grow-your-own” programs where school leaders develop a workforce from those who already live on the East End, he said. Hampton Bays has a program in early childhood education for high school students to see if they are interested in the field.

Odom said they have been able to fully staff for the pre-K to eighth-grade district, but he worries about the future as housing grows more expensive.

According to the U.S. Census, the median value of a home in Montauk climbed to $1,071,700 in 2022 compared with $885,000 in 2019. Recent sales have topped more than $1.1 million.

“We are going to be putting out some postings for positions for leave replacements. And I anticipate filling those to be a challenge,” Odom said.

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