New Suffolk School adopts non-instructional status

For the first time in New Suffolk School history, which spans more than a century, residents voted 83-14 on Tuesday to shutter the school and send its remaining students to the Southold School District. 

Since 1907, the small school district had taught only elementary grades in the historic red schoolhouse on Fourth Street and tuitioned its secondary school students to neighboring districts.

The school almost closed in April 2018 before its Board of Education voted unanimously to cancel a similar districtwide vote on whether the 15 students then attending should be sent to Southold.

With Tuesday’s vote, New Suffolk will become a non-instructional school district at the end of the current school year. It will no longer provide day-to-day instruction within its own building, although the transition will have no immediate impact on that building or the school property. 

With the change approved, all New Suffolk students in grades K through 12 will attend Southold Union Free School District starting in September. Tax dollars that formerly covered their New Suffolk enrollment will be passed on the Southold school district as tuition payments.

Currently, 15 high school and two elementary students from New Suffolk attend school in Southold. This fall, they will be joined by the six elementary students still being taught in New Suffolk, who have two teachers. The New Suffolk Common School District and its Board of Education will remain intact and will make decisions on maintenance of the buildings and grounds, along with the school budget and their students’ tuition agreements. The district will also have its own tax rate, according to Superintendent Joe Vasile-Cozzo.

Several meetings where held ahead of the vote so community members could weigh in on the district’s shift in status — and on the future of its building and grounds. The Board of Education has discussed the possibility of seeking landmark status for the building and a public hearing was held Feb. 27.

“The community has really expressed that they don’t want the building to change and they’re really concerned about the [preservation of] the location and open space that we have in the field,” Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said. “This board has made a commitment to look at all options and hear [the community’s] input.”

Landmark status would allow district officials to make renovations inside the school, if needed, but would ensure that the exterior of the historic structure remains the same, he added.

The New Suffolk district has been included on the New York State Comptroller’s fiscal stress list since January 2019. Last school year, it was listed as under moderate fiscal stress, and this year was deemed under “significant stress,” the highest risk category. 

Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said there has been “nothing but positive feedback” about the decision to become a non-instructional school district.

“[We] want to make sure the kids are taken care of, and they get a good education,” he said, “and we move forward from there.”