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Sep 3, 2014 11:17 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Expresses Doubt Over Merger With Tuckahoe

Sep 3, 2014 11:55 AM

For the first time since merger talks began between the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts, members of the Southampton School Board expressed doubts this week about moving forward with re-votes this fall, saying they have heard no interest in doing so from their constituents.

At the district’s first work session of the new school year on Tuesday night, several board members said that although they still believe the merger will benefit both districts, without support from Southampton residents, there is not much the district can do to make it happen. Board members said that to date they have heard only from people who oppose the merger, and now they are calling for Southampton School District taxpayers who support the merger to come forward and be heard.

People are “ambivalent at best,” said School Board Vice President Donald J. King.

In a few weeks, if officials feel there is enough support to warrant continuing exploration of a merger, the district will organize a series of debates for Southampton residents before holding a second straw vote to determine if a final referendum will be held. If not, the district will reevaluate whether dedicating a considerable amount of time to moving forward is a good idea.

“The merger has become almost a distraction,” Mr. King said. “We are at the point where we either need to do it or move on. We have problems in our own district that we need to worry about.”

The Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts have for several years been discussing a merger to alleviate a bleak financial future for Tuckahoe, but no action was taken until October 2012, when the two districts commissioned a merger study. A plan that outlined details for the Southampton School District to annex Tuckahoe was approved by State Education Commissioner John B. King’s office in August 2013. Voters in the two districts were able to cast the first of several votes on the proposal—and in the first round, the plan was overwhelmingly approved by Tuckahoe voters but rejected by voters in the Southampton School District.

Last month, the Southampton district released preliminary figures for a new study conducted in-house using what it said were more solid financial predictions than an original merger study approved by the state. The original study estimated that Southampton taxpayers could expect to see an increase of roughly 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to their annual property tax rate, which would be about 8.7 percent, or $210 more per year, on a house assessed at $1 million.

But in the new study, the tax increase is projected at a total of 33 cents per $1,000, spread out over a decade. The increase would not go into effect until the 2018-19 school year. At the 10-year mark, the total tax impact for a $1 million house would be $330 higher due to the merger, not including non-merger-related increases to the district budget over the 10-year span. This year, a home assessed at $1 million is paying an estimated $2,410 in school taxes.

However, district officials are saying that projection could be misleading because it is not all-inclusive. The district has opted not to include it in future presentations.

“The average of 33 cents over 10 years is a debatable number,” Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina acknowledged. “You could say it is oversimplified. That is an average, and it is when you are talking compared to the years before or the beginning of the merger, so it is confusing.”

Mr. King said he is most disappointed with recently passed legislation aimed to help the district, saying it is not what was asked for. Originally, the board was under the impression that the legislation would completely eliminate a tax increase for Southampton residents, but instead the bill delays the increase, which Mr. King said will be significantly higher than $330 for a home assessed at $1 million when all is said and done.

“Being a resident with two kids in college, that is a lot of money for me and a lot of money for my family,” he said. “I am just having a hard time saying it is a good thing at this point.”

He was also unhappy with a second piece of legislation passed in Albany that would allow the district to use its reserve funds to offset the tax increase. According to Mr. King, the district did not ask for that, and it should be up to residents how the reserve money should be spent.

“I do believe that this is the right thing for the entire community for the two districts to merge, because I believe that a divided community is a weakened community,” Board President Heather McCallion said, adding that she urges parents who support the merger to be more active in the effort, “so that we can see what kind of appetite there is to move forward.

“Without that,” she continued. “I am having a hard time seeing how the seven of us can move forward. We can lead the charge, but if there is no one behind us, I don’t know how that is going to work.”

Board member Andy Brindle also talked about the financial ramifications of the merger, saying that it is unfortunate, but at the end of the day money is an important factor in the decision. Mr. Brindle also said it will be important to see how the educational impact of the potential merger, versus the impact on the taxes, will affect future discussions.

“We have heard from little pockets of people who are clear and bring intelligible points about why the merger should not go forward,” he said. “I think it is a very interesting case study on the long-term benefits of a merger versus a tax hike. I think everybody that I know would agree that if the tax wasn’t important that adding the 400 neighboring students would make all sorts of sense to have a bigger district. But money is in play, and we can understand how people will be forced to vote along those lines.

“What I haven’t heard,” he continued. “Is the other side of the argument. And I would like to hear from them.”

During the meeting, Dr. Farina also explained that the impacts on the high school will not be as severe as originally projected if the Tuckahoe students are pulled from the district down the road. After a class-by-class comparison, Dr. Farina said the district will still have enough students to maintain all college and Advanced Placement classes. The biggest change, he said, will be smaller class sizes and fewer sections, meaning several teachers will be let go—a move that would help offset the loss of tuition payments for Tuckahoe students. At the same time, the district already has trouble maintaining some sports and extracurricular programs, several of which would not survive losing the Tuckahoe students.

On Wednesday morning, Tuckahoe Superintendent Chris Dyer—who was present at the Southampton meeting on Tuesday night—said that he was surprised by the comments made by the board, but that he appreciated their candor and hopes annexation discussions can continue in the next few months.

“The solidarity of the community to support our schools clearly impacts the tax burden,” he said in a statement. “We continue to believe as a Tuckahoe community that the benefits educationally and financially in the long term are paramount to a quality of life for all in Southampton Town.”

The Southampton School District is now looking to find its next step. In the next few days, the officials will be reaching out to district residents soliciting those in favor of the merger to come forward, possibly through reforming a joint Citizens Advisory Committee. The district has not yet announced how people should make contact, but asked them to check the district website for updates.

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You should all be ashamed of yourselves, you call yourselves board members and you are affriad to fight a battle. Nothing good ever comes easy. What are we teaching our children walk away from the things that are tough, No one likes change, no likes to pay extra for anything. EVERYONE needs to give here this is not a game this is real life. This is the difference between bringing a community together as one or tearing apart what used to be a beautiful place to raise families. Really people think ...more
By mychildmatters (70), SOUTHAMPTON on Sep 3, 14 12:38 PM
mychildmatters, I for one am glad the board is being open and honest. They were elected to represent those who elected them and it would be an absolute shame if they did not live up to that responsibility. I, personally, am in favor of the merger as a Southampton School District resident. I do not believe I am alone in that. However, the voices of those of us in favor need to be just as loud, and louder, in fact, if there is any hope of overcoming the extremely loud voices of those who oppose the ...more
By remytwoton (23), southampton on Sep 3, 14 1:34 PM
2 members liked this comment
I stated it before, Tuckahoe should look to Hampton Bays School District. The districts border each other like with Southampton. Hampton Bays is a lot
Closer than Westhampton. Also, Hampton Bays provides a quality educational experience to it's students.
By Jimion (129), Hampton Bays on Sep 3, 14 4:19 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 4:27 PM
Thank you to those BOE members who have thought long and hard about the merger and have decided that it is in the best interests of the Southampton School DIstrict, It does nothing to enhance the Southampton DIstrict or to advance the education of the students. The merger is simply a way to make Southampton tax payers pick up the tab for Tuckahoe. Their constituents are not in favor of the merger and finally the BOE is respecting their wishes. The plan puts an enormous burden on the Southampton ...more
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 4:27 PM
Now that the SH BOE has disparaged the study, the study team, the legislation and the tax estimates all supporters of the merger should immediately rush on into the board meeting to make their case for the entire community to watch. While I'm no expert in body language or tonality, it does not appear that a single member off the SH BOE possess an iota of conviction for this merger. So who would support something that seems DOA? Not to mention it's probably just a coincidence that Don King is in ...more
By huh? (1), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 5:10 PM
Now listen to the Tuckahoe constituents...please no more giving SHSD an exclusive tuition deal. Give our students a choice of where they want to go. Hampton Bays and or Westhampton.
By Infoseeker (280), Hampton Bays on Sep 3, 14 7:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
For a group that cares about education do you think Hampton Bays is a good choice?
By the way its about time democracy ruled and the large majority ruled. Tuckahoe wants small classrooms and a private school atmosphere which is very ecpensive. Its all yours!
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Sep 3, 14 8:23 PM
The board makes perfect sense. If there's no interest in a merger, why waste time and money. If Tuckahoe can't survive financially, perhaps it's time to send the Tuckahoe kids all to Westhampton, or talk about a merger with them. As much as I don't want to see the community broken up, the writing is on the wall. It's a shame the two tax district thing didn't pan out, it seemed like an ideal solution.
By lamm (304), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 8:58 PM
So sorry you bought houses in the tuckahoe school district. So sorry your school administration and staff were paid huge sums of the taxpayers money. So sorry nobody saw this coming. Sell your house, buy in Southampton district, and problem solved. So sorry, but the taxpayers of Southampton school district are not a charity group. Keep it to yourselves, and figure out your own financial problems.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 9:57 PM
Double check but I'm pretty sure that districts can only merge if they border each other.
By April1 (156), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 10:00 PM
Tuckahoe Board of Trustees...this is a blessing in disguise. The option to send our kids to Westhampton brought value when purchasing a home in Tuckahoe. It will increase property values when we can once again say that buying a home in Tuckahoe means high school "choice". The choice should never have been taken away! WHB is a far superior school system and they always welcomed the Tuckahoe kids. I am sure they would negotiate a great deal to get them back...just ask! Our kids mingled with ...more
By DottyLomo (4), on Sep 3, 14 11:43 PM
No choice, we are in a better place to negotiate a good tuition and possibly save Tuckahoe by sending all kids to Westhampton. April, you are right, the districts are supposed to be neighboring, but rules can be changed, especially since we have a governor that really wants small districts to merge with larger ones. Tuckahoe voters won't approve Hampton Bays. Westhampton is an excellent district and may be easier to sell to residents if Southampton is off the table.
By lamm (304), Southampton on Sep 3, 14 11:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
I agree...send all kids to Westhampton...They'll be eager to make a deal in a time when all districts are experiencing financial stress. I also forgot to mention their Advanced Placement programs (so many AP choices) as well as the fact that they actually recognize the rigor that goes with taking AP and honors classes...Southampton did away with the weight system and now has none! They also did away with Valedictorian , etc. Terrible! That alone deters kids from reaching higher and taking more ...more
By DottyLomo (4), on Sep 4, 14 12:07 AM
Bravo Lamm and DottyLomo. I agree with both of you Westhampton is far superior than SHSD yet HBSD is no worse than SH and if there becomes an option again it should be brought to the table for discussion.
By Infoseeker (280), Hampton Bays on Sep 4, 14 8:15 AM
Perhaps Southampton will take on Bridgehampton kids to replace Tuckahoe students. It's time for Tuckahoe to cut the cord with the Southampton SD and move in a different direction.
By lamm (304), Southampton on Sep 4, 14 2:57 PM
When we bought our home in Southampton (yes, that's my mailing address, my zip code, where I live geographically on a map), I believed I was part of a Southampton community. COMMUNITY. With two school districts and one high school. Never did I anticipate that my small children would grow into high school students who would then be referred to by those in their own community as something someTHING that is "too expensive" to keep.

People saying "give them to Hampton Bays or Westhampton"..... ...more
By Shinnecock Hills family (59), Southampton on Sep 5, 14 8:09 AM
Based upon the last vote, there aren't many supporters. Thats sad, but it's the reality. Perhaps Tuckahoe needs to accept that and move forward, and consider piercing the tax cap to keep our school open and maintain our property values. Sending the kids to Westhampton would be a good thing in the long run, it is an excellent school, and lots of very successful kids go out of district now. It isn't going to kill them. Then after a few years maybe Southampton will want to talk merger again. ...more
By lamm (304), Southampton on Sep 5, 14 10:00 AM
The BOE members actually said during their comments that they support the merger, but that given what they are hearing from the community, they need to hear from Southampton District residents who support the merger. They are only hearing from the residents who do not. The article is a bit misleading...the reporter can not write everything the BOE members said and chose to only write the portion of their statements that were negative toward the merger. Each of the members said that they want the ...more
By remytwoton (23), southampton on Sep 5, 14 1:41 PM
The merger was soundly defeated less than a year ago. There is no reason to vote on it again, especially since the Southampton administrators have found that the numbers they presented last year before the vote painted a rosier picture of the savings that would have resulted than is possible. This is a bad plan. It should have been rejected and it was rejected last year. It's time to move on to the problems in the schools and leave the merger behind us.
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Sep 5, 14 3:18 PM