Westhampton Beach and East Moriches are open to consolidation study


Westhampton Beach School District officials confirmed this week that they are open to exploring the idea of consolidating with the East Moriches School District, five days after officials in that district announced that they would support the creation of a central high school district to help curb spending.

Westhampton Beach and East Moriches school officials have arranged a meeting with State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, tentatively scheduled for next month, in order to “gauge with Senator LaValle if this is something that could feasibly happen,” East Moriches Superintendent Charles Russo stated last week. As of Monday, Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Lynn Schwartz said he did not have a solid date for the meeting to discuss the proposed consolidation.

If East Moriches and Westhampton Beach did consolidate, and a central high school district was created, all East Moriches students would then have to attend Westhampton Beach High School, Mr. Schwartz explained. At the present time, East Moriches students also have the option of attending either Center Moriches or Eastport South Manor high schools.

Unlike a merger, where both districts would be governed by a single school board, a consolidated district would lead to the creation of a new board of education that would be solely charged with overseeing Westhampton Beach High School, according to Mr. Schwartz. Separate school boards in East Moriches and Westhampton Beach would still govern the K-8 schools in their respective districts.

Last week, East Moriches school officials stated that the feasibility study would explore the idea of creating a central high school district, a move intended to reduce East Moriches’s high school tuition expenses. The district paid more than $7.1 million this year to cover the tuition fees of its 350 students attending high school in Westhampton Beach, Eastport South Manor and Center Moriches.

However, it will not be clear until the completion of the feasibility study, which is expected to take about 18 months, whether Westhampton Beach would benefit from such a combination of services.

The potential impact on school property taxes, in both East Moriches and Westhampton Beach, would also be the focus of the feasibility study, Mr. Schwartz explained. Because East Moriches is located within Brookhaven Town, the hamlet has a different tax structure than those hamlets in Southampton Town. The East Moriches school tax rate is calculated on a $100 per assessed valuation basis, while Westhampton Beach school taxes are calculated on a $1,000 per assessed valuation schedule.

“The tax rate is part of the complexity of this study,” Mr. Schwartz said. “We need experts in the field to conduct a study to see what the financial benefit is for Westhampton Beach.

“One of the results of the financial study would be to determine the tax rate,” he continued.

In the Westhampton Beach School District, school taxes are $4.78 per $1,000 of assessed value for the 2008-09 school year; in East Moriches, school taxes are $213.26 per $100 of assessed valuation for the current school year. How these tax rates would change—and whether or not the tax rates would be uniform in both districts—would be examined as part of the study, Mr. Schwartz explained.

Westhampton Beach School Board Vice President Jim Hulme said this week that he thinks that his district and East Moriches are essentially consolidated already as “most of the high school students from East Moriches come here.”

For the 2008-09 school year, 267 students from East Moriches—about 75 percent of all high school-age students in that district—attend Westhampton Beach High School, according to Mr. Schwartz.

At the present time, the Westhampton Beach School District charges $18,100 a year in tuition for each student who attends its schools from one of its sending districts, which includes East Moriches. Other sending districts include Remsenburg/Speonk, Quogue, East Quogue and Tuckahoe.

The Quogue and Remsenburg/Speonk school districts have also expressed an interest in participating in a consolidation study. East Quogue and Tuckahoe have stated that they are not interested in participating.

The proposed consolidation of the East Moriches and Westhampton Beach school districts is not a brand new concept, as officials in both districts have been discussing the idea on and off for the past several years. However, the talks escalated again after the East Moriches School Board rejected holding a straw vote on a possible merger with the Center Moriches School District earlier this year.

“Now that East Moriches has made a decision about Center Moriches, we’re going to take a look at this in a collaborative way,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Mr. Hulme noted that the beginning of the feasibility study is “not too far down the road.”

Staff writer Bryan Finlayson contributed to this story.

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