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Nov 15, 2013 12:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton, Tuckahoe School Boards Still Working Toward Merger

Nov 20, 2013 10:57 AM

The Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts are continuing to work toward a merger following a failed straw vote last month.

After a closed-door executive session meeting last week, the superintendents, Dr. Scott Farina of Southampton and Chris Dyer of Tuckahoe, released a joint statement saying the two districts will work together to explore every aspect of a merger, including financial aid, tax breaks and legislative help, that could facilitate annexing the Tuckahoe School into the Southampton School District.

Questions were raised this week about the legality of the executive session, which was advertised to discuss “legal” issues between the two districts—which, according to Robert Freeman of the state’s Committee on Open Government, is not a valid reason to enter executive session. This week, both Mr. Dyer and Dr. Farina clarified that the meeting was to discuss the impact on specific district employees if the merger should go through, including their health benefits, salaries and possible terminations—and that would be a discussion that could be held behind closed doors.

“The executive session for the joint meeting between the boards was framed around clause F of the code,” Mr. Dyer said. “We were really talking about how to move forward with what would be the impacts of the merger on our personnel.”

He was referring to the portion of the state’s Open Meetings Law that allows a closed-door meeting to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”

Mr. Dyer explained that the meeting was advertised as addressing “legal” issues because of the legal ramifications if health care, salary or personal staff information had been discussed publicly. According to Dr. Farina, the districts were also discussing the financial history of both districts.

“The school code allows for executive sessions in particular where you are discussing the financial history of corporations, which is one topic we discussed,” he said. “The other is the hiring or dismissal of personnel, which is another item we discussed.”

While neither superintendent would go into detail about the agenda for the meeting, Mr. Dyer did confirm that a proposed timeline for bringing the proposal back before the voters would be tight if it were in fact possible. He said a lot of details hinge upon the actions of local legislators, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

If the politicians can enact legislation in early January to alter the tax impacts of a merger for Southampton residents, the districts may consider bringing the measure to a vote, possibly in February, to allow enough time to inform the community, hold a straw vote in Southampton and possibly in Tuckahoe, and then wait the required 45 days before the final vote, possibly in early April. That would give just enough time for both districts to finalize either a joint or separate budget for the next school year.

Last month, Southampton residents voted down the proposal, 1,075-693, in the straw vote. The proposal would have merged the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts, effective July 1, 2014, if a subsequent joint vote by both districts went on to be approved in December. In Tuckahoe, taxpayers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the proposition, 565-35, in the straw vote. Because Tuckahoe taxpayers have already approved the merger, a new straw vote would be necessary only in the Southampton School District.

However, if legislation in January would change the financial impact on Tuckahoe residents, Mr. Dyer said the district will hold a new straw vote. If it passes, it would move on to the final vote with both districts participating.

For now, it is unclear when the proposal will be brought back to the taxpayers. “We remain hopeful to find a merger solution that is both academically enriching and allows both districts to realize the savings created by the economies of scale,” the statement says.

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Tuckahoe passed the merger because of the lowered tax rate promised. Thile and LaValle are now talking about figuring how to merge wi th NO tax in crease for Southampton which would mean less to no tax DECREASE for Tuckahoe. You cannot simply say the Tuckahoe vote stands as is if you are going to change the terms!
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Nov 15, 13 1:26 PM
Witch Hazel, the vote was for a merger, not a tax decrease. Tuckahoe School is unsustainable and will not be able to provide a quality education to its elementary and junior high school students for much longer while sending kids to either Southampton or Westhampton, BOTH charge high tuition. I understand you have a personal interest in keeping Westhampton as an option, and I agree that it's wrong that they're proposing a removal of the kids from that school (and hope that the Education Dept ...more
By lamm (304), Southampton on Nov 15, 13 6:37 PM
My child is a student at Westhampton Beach. We were given assurances that the students would be grandfathered in by Tuckahoe in Jan of 2013 - we received letters. Southampton School Board said they would not abide by that since they needed all the students to keep the tuition deal low. Southampton is still proposing to charge more than Westhampton Beach. There was money set aside at Tuckahoe to provide for these students. With a 12,000,000 reserve fund at Southampton, they could easily send the ...more
By purrazz@optonline.net (6), Southampton on Nov 15, 13 6:48 PM
The vote was for a merger with a very clearly defined tax decrease. The school's sustainability is a matter of opinion. You must have me mistaken for someone else as I have no personal interest in keeping Westhampton as an option beyond the fact that they have charged us tax payers a heck of a lot less that SH for over 10 years!

A small school may be expensive to operate, but so is a big school that is academically challenged.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Nov 19, 13 4:49 PM
You are absolutely correct, witch hazel.

Erin McKinley has done a really outstanding job covering this this annexation issue. But she shouldn't simply accept the superintendents' statement that no Tuckahoe revote will be necessary for if the terms of the post-annexation tax levy are changed.

If Tuck taxpayers in a future deal don't get lower taxes in the amount specified in the first vote they approved, they would have to have a revote legally to have the new deal stand. Otherwise, ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Nov 15, 13 6:44 PM
Who gave the school board the authorization to continue pursuing a merger with Tuckahoe? These administrators are wasting valuable time pursuing something that taxpayers voted to discontinue. They need to do their job which is to make education better in the Southampton school districts. The district is mismanaged with the students that it has. Why do they think taking on more students will equal a better education. No one wants higher taxes.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Nov 15, 13 7:25 PM
2 members liked this comment
They also should have OPEN meetings. The recent executive session followed by a press release about the merger suggests yet another round of secrecy and incompetence at the expense of the public.
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Nov 16, 13 9:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
The savings comes from eliminating Tuckahoe administrative costs. Why not contract with Southampton Schools for administrative services and continue to pay tuition for its students as it does now.

The only reason to merge the tax base is if the goal is to transfer wealth from one community to another. Why do that?
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Nov 16, 13 10:37 AM
BTW, I am always astonished how quick folks are to completely erase a school district especially as no one is considering the overall impact of property values. Hint: lower taxes do not mean higher home prices nor does being in a poorly performing school district.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Nov 19, 13 4:51 PM