In response to concerns about the student population, particularly children living in illegal housing and placed in the district by the federal government, Hampton Bays Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen detailed the district’s demographics and residency policy during Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
While it’s typical for Mr. Clemensen to discuss population trends during the board’s October meetings, the presentation on Tuesday went beyond total enrollment, touching upon race, type of home, number of immigrants and number of refugees.
The number of students living in rental homes, both legal and illegal, has been an issue for community groups—predominantly the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays—for the past several years. The issue of refugee children, primarily those from Central America and South America who are picked up at the U.S.-Mexico border, is relatively new, albeit one that’s being dealt with across Long Island.
The district has an enrollment of 2,197 students, 66 more than the district anticipated when doing projections last year, Mr. Clemensen said. That number has been affected, to some degree, by 252 new enrollments since November 1, 2013. Of those newly enrolled, 79 are classified as immigrants, with the majority coming from Central and South America and others coming from countries such as Poland, Slovakia and China.
About 12 percent of the students are considered immigrants, and 15 of those students are classified as refugees by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. These refugees, most of whom are fleeing impoverished and war-torn countries in Latin America, are picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and placed with family members in the U.S. while they await a court hearing to seek asylum.
“Refugee doesn’t necessarily mean they are orphaned, refugee doesn’t mean they are here because some foster parent raised their hand and said they’d take them,” Mr. Clemensen said. “All 15 of these kids have been reunited with either a parent, that’s the vast majority, a sister or an aunt.”
Additionally, 21 percent of the students in the district receive some sort of English as a second language support. Mr. Clemensen estimated the cost of running a Spanish language translation station, promoting teacher’s assistants to teachers, creating support programs and other related expenses to have totaled $100,000 since last November.
The majority of students in the district identify as Hispanic, totaling 1,153 or 53 percent; 971, or 44 percent, are white; 28, or 1 percent, are black; and 45, or 2 percent, are classified as “other.” Forty-one percent of students in the district are considered impoverished, Mr. Clemensen said.
This year, 1,215 students, or 55 percent of the total population, live in 646 rental homes in the district. An additional 144 students are spread out between 24 structures that were not intended to be used as homes, Mr. Clemensen said, namely motels, resorts, camps, bungalows or other businesses, although some are classified as legal apartments.
The district has policies in place to make sure students live where they say they do. First, the district sends someone to “welcome” all families that enroll a child in kindergarten with a class supply list and a cookie from Panera Bread. Reconfirmation check-ups are done for students going from fourth grade to fifth grade as well as from eighth grade to ninth. Rental properties are checked bi-annually and all addresses from which mail bounces back are checked. If teachers or administrators catch wind of anything unusual, such as a student talking about a longer commute to school, a check is conducted.
Some things trigger health and safety concerns, such as seeing three or more surnames for children registered at the same address, Mr. Clemensen said. These issues are passed along to Southampton Town Code Enforcement.
Later in the meeting the Hampton Bays Board of Education adopted the tax levy approved by voters this past spring and with it, a tax rate that is 0.6 percent higher than projected.
The board adopted a tax levy of more than $43 million to support the roughly $48.2 million budget. To support that budget, the district will tax property owners at a rate of $13.14 per $1,000 of assessed property value, an increase of 35 cents or 2.7 percent from last year’s rate of $12.79 per $1,000 of assessed value.
During the spring, the school predicted an increase of 27 cents, or 2.1 percent, that would have put the tax rate at $13.06. Under the current tax rate, a Hampton Bays resident with a home assessed at $400,000 will pay $5,256 in school taxes, while someone with a home assessed at the same value last year would have paid $5,116.
Hampton Bays business administrator Larry Luce explained that the discrepancy between the projected rate and the adopted rate is a result of the overall assessed value of the district dropping by $46 million instead of the projected $18 million drop that was expected. The district’s total assessed value fell from $3.248 billion to $3.202 billion.