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Oct 22, 2013 2:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

First Public Vote On Southampton-Tuckahoe Merger Is Scheduled For Next Week

Oct 23, 2013 8:36 AM

Less than a week before the first public vote on a proposed merger between the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts, officials are still reaching out to taxpayers to provide information to help voters decide their positions.

With the first of two potential votes scheduled for Tuesday, October 29, the window to spread information about the proposed annexation—on which many civic groups are choosing sides—is narrow, with both districts having received approval for the measure from State Education Commissioner John B. King last month.

The merger, which is technically an annexation of the Tuckahoe district by the Southampton district, is going to the voters after the school boards of both districts approved the public vote. Separate polling will be held in the two districts next week; if the public vote fails in either, the merger proposal would fail. Soon afterward, the Tuckahoe School District will face limited school reserves—and possible bankruptcy—while the Southampton district could lose all of the tuition paid by Tuckahoe high school-age students, which amounts to roughly $3 million in annual revenue.

“Tuckahoe is an essential part of the high school band, baseball team, soccer team, football team, track team, math team, student government, clubs, etc.,” the Tuckahoe School District wrote in a newsletter to residents about the proposal. “The permanent loss of our students would deprive [Southampton] of the depth they bring to the classroom and beyond.”

If voters in both districts approve the measure next Tuesday, a second vote formalizing the approval would be held in December, combining the two districts for a single balloting.

The merger would result in a new district with a single tax rate that would represent an increase of 8.7 percent, or more, for Southampton taxpayers, according to estimates. The new rate would cut tax bills for Tuckahoe property owners by about two-thirds.

Without the merger, both districts could face serious financial repercussions.

If the merger fails, Tuckahoe officials have said, the district would be forced to reduce the roughly $3 million it pays in high school tuition to Southampton in any way possible. One option would be to negotiate significantly lower tuition rates with Southampton. Another would be for Tuckahoe to sign a tuition contract with a different school district, to hold the district ninth-graders at the middle school to save money, or to create its own high school program. As it stands, it is unclear where Tuckahoe’s current eighth-graders will attend high school next year.

If the Tuckahoe district is forced to declare bankruptcy, New York State will step in—but district officials and state representatives said they did not know what the state could, or might, do to remedy the situation.

Meanwhile, without the benefit of the Tuckahoe students, the Southampton School District would also face financial problems. According to Southampton School Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina, Tuckahoe students make up more than a quarter of the high school population, and if Southampton loses those tuition revenues, it would be forced to make cuts, including to Advanced Placement and college level courses, sports teams, clubs, and music programs.

If the merger is approved, the state would combine the two districts’ staff lists to determine seniority levels, with staff members given credit for the amount of time served in their district.

According to a merger feasibility report conducted by the SES Study team, tax projections assume that the 2014-15 budget for the new, merged school district will increase by 2.5 percent, to $71,470,013, above what this year’s budget would have been if there were a combined school district. The report projects a tax levy of $60,471,648 for the overall new, merged district. The figures are based on teaching and administrative needs for all four of the merged district’s schools.

In total, staff expenditures for the first year of the new district are expected to be approximately $6,104,634.

Additionally, if the merger is approved, the estimated 40 Tuckahoe students now attending Westhampton Beach High School will not be allowed to finish their education in that district. They would have to attend Southampton High School—a move that is expected to save the new combined district approximately $1 million in tuition payments.

Prepared by the SES Study Team from Canastota, New York, the report does paint a positive picture for the new combined districts’ spending, noting an estimated $3.3 million in merger incentive money from the state over the first 14 years, $1.8 million of which will come in the first five years, although the merger would also have related costs.

Based on several assumptions—including stability in property values and tax rates—the report estimates that Southampton tax rates would increase by roughly 21 cents, or 8.7 percent, from $2.42 to $2.63 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. According to state guidelines, the consolidated district must have the same tax rate for all district taxpayers residing in the same town—although state legislation is being considered that could change that, or roll the tax increases out gradually if the merger is approved.

If the merger is approved, a Southampton homeowner with a home assessed at $500,000 could expect to pay approximately $1,315 in school taxes for the 2014-15 school year, an increase of $105 over the current year’s projected tax levy of $1,210.

In Tuckahoe, residents would save money, with the tax rate dropping from $7.50 to the $2.63 per $1,000 of assessed valuation levied in the new merged district.

For a home assessed at $500,000 in Tuckahoe, a taxpayer could also expect to pay $1,315 in school taxes—a decrease of $2,435 from this year’s projected tax bill of $3,750.

The first public vote is scheduled for Tuesday, October 29. Taxpayers in each district will cast ballots at the Tuckahoe School and at the Southampton Intermediate School between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. If either district fails to pass the merger, the districts will have to wait at least one year before considering another annexation.

If the vote passes in both districts, there will be a second vote, scheduled for December 5 and run by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, to determine the ultimate fate of the merger.

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oh stop! study the facts! You are wrong
By local39 (14), southampton on Oct 25, 13 8:48 AM
vote yes
By local39 (14), southampton on Oct 25, 13 10:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
Tuckahoe is PART of our Southampton community and should be fully incorporated as such. If the merger is voted down, our taxes will likely go up anyway to counteract the budget shortfall caused by losing the revenue from Tuckahoe students attending SHS. At least vote YES on Tuesday so the discussion can continue until we get real budget numbers prior to the binding December vote.
By Dafsgirl (64), Southampton on Oct 25, 13 12:29 PM
For perhaps half of Tuckahoe parents, who will send their kids to Southampton no matter what the results of the vote, this is a resounding no brainer, a YES! For the other half who abhor the takeover by a lousy school, many are certainly attracted to a great lowering of their taxes and for that reason, will vote for it nevertheless. The others will find a way to move out as is already evident from the ubiquitous proliferation of FOR SALE signs in Tuckahoe! To them, the quality of their kids' education ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Oct 25, 13 7:23 PM
Obbservant, most Tuckahoe residents live in the Southampton community, we aren't asking another community to bail us out. Tuckahoe School is in Southampton. If we asked Westhampton to merge you might have an argument and I would also guess that you wouldn't sound so angry and bitter, but most Tuckahoe residents don't want to merge with a school in another community. Raising and educating a child is about more than how many AP classes a kid can fit into their schedule. You do have quite a flair ...more
By lamm (304), Southampton on Oct 25, 13 8:46 PM
"If we asked Westhampton to merge you might have an argument and I would also guess that you wouldn't sound so angry and bitter, but most Tuckahoe residents don't want to merge with a school in another community."

You've really swallowed that baseless canard the Board has fed you hook, line, and sinker. You and many of your uncritical kind who have drunk the toxic School Board Kool Aid and blithely taken their word (as horrible and disastrous as their track record has been) have given ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Oct 26, 13 2:27 AM
In don't believe you are correct, the majority did not and would not have chosen Westhampton. Perhaps increasing numbers but not the majority. Two grades don't make the decision for an entire district either. You did make it clear that this is about the choice of the district we are possibly merging with and not the idea of a merger itself. Westhampton is not a contingent district, and they are not part of our Southampton community. The choice of Southampton is logical. I don't base my decision ...more
By lamm (304), Southampton on Oct 26, 13 8:42 AM
In addition, you mention often what Tuckahoe parents want. This decision isn't just up to the parents. I don't think I need "scientific evidence" to prove that the Tuckahoe community at large would likely choose Southampton over Westhampton, and not just for community pride reasons, but also because a Southampton merger would give us a lower tax rate than a Westhampton merger.
By lamm (304), Southampton on Oct 26, 13 10:07 AM
“Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the power of transformation. I ask that you be with Obbservant and that you help him/her to lift her shield of hatred and torment. We are very aware that you are a God that loves to show your protection over your children. Please be with your neediest child now in Obbservant. She is publicly suffering and aching in the absence of a peaceful mind.

In the name of Jesus, I bind Obbservant's tormenting spirits to the spirit of balak. These ...more
By The Helper (1), southampton on Oct 26, 13 7:42 AM
observant should get a job so she could afford the $20 increase in her taxes or gain a heart and think about the priority....KIDS
By local39 (14), southampton on Oct 27, 13 8:25 AM
Obbservant is a he and doesn't even own property in the district any longer.
By CarlaMa (4), southampton on Oct 27, 13 11:28 AM
I think the threats that AP classes will be cut is particularly inappropriate. THe Southampton School could make cuts in administration and in other ways. THese are scare tactics. If the two districts merge, the incredible financial burden of a bankrupt school district that will now pay only one third of the taxes they paid in the past will bankrupt the newly merged Southampton School District. In fact, that's the real threat. No one in their right mind takes on a bankrupt entity that will contribute ...more
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Oct 28, 13 5:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
Local, a couple of points in response. First of all, Tuckahoe is not bankrupt, not even close. The school and grounds are impeccable, the financial condition today is good and debt is low (lower than Southampton's I believe). If you have been in Tuckahoe School recently, you would know that the building would be an amazing addition to the SHSD, and possibly a beautiful and nurturing early elementary school for the combined district. The issue at Tuckahoe is tomorrow. With a tax cap in place ...more
By lamm (304), Southampton on Oct 28, 13 11:50 PM