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Feb 4, 2015 10:23 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tuckahoe Looking For One-Year Tuition Deal With Negotiated Rates For Special Education Students

Feb 4, 2015 11:20 AM

The Tuckahoe School District will not move forward with a five-year tuition contract with the Southampton School District, though district officials are working on a one-year exclusivity deal that would focus on the rate Tuckahoe pays for special education students.

At a Tuckahoe School Board meeting on Tuesday night, district officials said the five-year tuition deal is not feasible for Tuckahoe, largely because it would be based on Southampton’s year-to-year districtwide spending increases, and thus Tuckahoe would have no control over the rate of increase. They added that the district would not be able to handle increasing tuition rates after next year.

Instead, Tuckahoe plans to counteroffer a one-year tuition deal with negotiated special education rates. Officials explained that over the next three years, Tuckahoe will have an unusually high number of special education students entering Southampton High School, which could more than double the tuition that Tuckahoe pays Southampton. However, most of the students do not require a full day of special education services, and Tuckahoe officials maintain that there should be different tuition rates for varying levels of special education services.

“I don’t think a five-year deal is feasible right now,” School Board member Dr. Daniel Crough said on Tuesday. “The more we look into that option, and the limits that Southampton has put on the five-year deal, it is just not possible to do that.”

Under the five-year proposal, Southampton would have offered a 15-percent discount, beginning in 2015-16, from the non-resident tuition rate cap set by the state, as well as a 25-percent discount for special education tuition—although both rates would be higher than what Tuckahoe is paying this year to send students to Southampton High School. As a condition of the deal, Tuckahoe would have to commit to an exclusive tuition contract through 2020. Under state law, Tuckahoe would have to hold a public referendum in the spring to approve any tuition deal extending beyond one year.

According to state mandates, the most the Southampton School District is allowed to charge in the 2015-16 school year for each non-resident student is $27,069. The cap is $88,842 for each special education student. Southampton is proposing that Tuckahoe pay $23,009 in tuition per student—15 percent below the cap but still 8.2 percent more than the current tuition rate, $21,263. The tuition for special education students would be $66,632, 25 percent below the state cap but 5.3 percent higher than the current year’s rate, $63,298.

For the 2015-16 school year, Tuckahoe expects to have 13 special education students who will attend high school. At the proposed rate from Southampton, Tuckahoe would be paying $866,216 in tuition for those students alone, not including tuition for other members of the freshman class, or the sophomores, juniors and seniors already attending high school.

According to longtime board member Harald Steudte, the district is working to show Southampton that Tuckahoe special education students do not all fit into one category, and that their tuition should not be set at the same rate. Most of the 13 students for next year are not at the higher spectrum for services required, and it will not cost more than $66,000 to educate them, Tuckahoe contends.

“We are trying to come to some number, using Southampton’s math, that we think is correct, because we acknowledge that they have three different schools and brick-and-mortar things that come into play,” Mr. Steudte said. “There is no rhyme or reason to the tuition formula: It is dumb and it does not take into account what the education process is worth.”

On Wednesday morning, Tuckahoe Superintendent Chris Dyer said the two districts’ administrators and school board members have discussed using the same figures for a one-year deal—at least for tuition for students who do not require special education services—while the two districts work to find a long-term solution. Mr. Dyer said the problem stems from tuition rates increasing at a much higher rate than the state property tax level cap allows districts to compensate for.

“Over the long term, that rate is not possible for economic stability,” Mr. Dyer said. “It is making it so our expenses are exceeding our revenues, and over the long term we cannot sustain it.”

While Tuckahoe officials are still working on a proposal, that was little comfort on Tuesday night to parents who want to know where their children will be attending high school in the fall.

“Holding the children hostage for negotiations that are not going your way, I don’t think, in my opinion, is the best way to proceed forward,” said Craig Ferrantino, whose son is in the eighth grade.

Tuckahoe School Board President Bob Grisnik said the district is working as fast as it can, but acknowledged that negotiations are taking longer than expected due to snowstorms and difficulty scheduling meetings. He also said he hopes to have more answers by the next Tuckahoe meeting, scheduled for February 9.

“We hope within the next week or two, that is all I can tell you,” Mr. Grisnik said. “We are trying to do the best that we can to get the best rate for our students. This is our community, and we all have different viewpoints on that, but that is the direction we started, and that is where we still are right now until we can get a definite answer on the tuition.”

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