Westhampton Beach School District Braces For Anticipated Loss Of Tuckahoe Tuition Students

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Westhampton Beach School District officials said this week that they are prepared to lose hundreds of thousands in tuition revenue each year if the Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts merge as expected, possibly by the 2014-15 school year—and the remaining sending districts could be asked to absorb some additional costs to help make up for the shortfall.

Westhampton Beach’s four other sending districts—Remsenburg-Speonk, Quogue, East Quogue and East Moriches—could eventually see an increase in their annual tuition payments, according to Kathleen O’Hara, the assistant superintendent for business at Westhampton Beach. She added, however, that they will not be asked to absorb the full loss due to expected decreases in expenditures once the proposed merger goes through and an estimated 50 to 60 Tuckahoe students stop attending Westhampton Beach High School.

“They won’t have to absorb as much, because expenses would go down,” Ms. O’Hara said, referring to her district’s four other sending districts, explaining that Westhampton Beach will be able to order fewer textbooks and supplies, for example.

She also said she does not think cuts to staffing could be made at the high school due to the need to offer a wide range of classes—though Schools Superintendent Michael Radday was not as quick to make such a statement. He said cuts to staffing might be necessary if Tuckahoe eventually pulls all of its high school students from Westhampton Beach, as could happen as soon as September 2014, and sends them instead to Southampton High School, as is required if the merger between that district and Tuckahoe goes through as currently structured.

Ms. O’Hara also noted that Westhampton Beach has a healthy reserve fund of about $2 million, and the district could tap it to help cover any gaps. She said the district plans to allocate 4 percent of its $53.5 million 2013-14 budget to its reserves.

“It’s something that we have known might be coming,” Ms. O’Hara said, referring to the anticipated loss of Tuckahoe students.

She said Westhampton Beach expects to collect an estimated $21.7 million in tuition fees during the 2013-14 school year from its five sending districts, including almost $1.1 million from Tuckahoe to educate an estimated 42 sophomores, juniors and seniors next school year. In exchange for a reduced tuition rate, and a condition of its future merger with Southampton, Tuckahoe, a K-8 school district, had to agree to send its graduating eighth-graders exclusively to Southampton during the 2013-14 school year. That one-year agreement is expected to be extended.

Tuckahoe’s tuition payments for next year will account for about 5 percent of the total tuition revenue taken in by Westhampton Beach during the 2013-14 school year from all of its sending districts, according to Ms. O’Hara. She estimated that Tuckahoe paid about $1.3 million in tuition during the 2012-13 school year, accounting for about 6 percent of the $21.4 million total that the district took in from its sending districts.

The annual tuition payments from its five sending districts will account for approximately 40.5 percent of Westhampton Beach’s $53.5 million 2013-14 budget. The state caps the amount that districts can charge in tuition for non-resident students using the Seneca Falls formula, which takes into account the amount it will cost the district to educate the students and allocates that proportionately among the sending districts.

In the 2012-13 school year, the districts paid Westhampton Beach $19,750 per general education student and $59,504 per special education student, according to Ms. O’Hara. She estimated that for the 2013-14 school year, they would pay $20,220 per general education student and $59,770 per special education student.

East Quogue Superintendent Les Black said this week that officials in his K-6 district, which spent about $10 million of its $22.4 million 2012-13 budget to educate the 422 tuition students who attend Westhampton Beach middle and high schools, is not overly worried about the potential loss of Tuckahoe students and the impact it could have on tuition fees. “Of course, there is a concern when any possibility of tuition increases arises,” Mr. Black said, noting that the merger is not yet a certainty. “It’s not a panic situation.”

He pointed out that Tuckahoe students make up a small portion—about 5.6 percent—of the tuition students attending Westhampton Beach.

East Moriches Superintendent Charles Russo, Quogue Superintendent Richard Benson and Remsenburg-Speonk Superintendent Ronald Masera did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

For the 2012-13 school year, East Moriches paid Westhampton Beach about $4.9 million to educate 224 students; Quogue paid about $1.3 million to educate 52 students; and Remsenburg-Speonk paid about $4 million to educate 168 students. For the 2013-14 school year, the estimated 875 non-resident Westhampton Beach students will account for just less than half the 1,811 children of the district’s total study body, from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Officials with the Tuckahoe School District, who say they must merge with Southampton to avoid bankruptcy, currently sends its high school age students to either Westhampton Beach or Southampton high school. But last month the Tuckahoe Board of Education approved an assurance as part of the proposed merger that would uproot those students who attend the Westhampton Beach High School and require that they attend the Southampton High School instead. Tuckahoe had been spending between $19,000 and $20,000 per general education student to send its students to Westhampton Beach, less than the $22,000 it is spending to send other high school age students to Southampton High School.

Westhampton Beach Board of Education President Suzanne Mensch said her district had anticipated the loss of revenue, but the new requirement that all Tuckahoe students attend Southampton starting in September 2014 would accelerate that loss. She also said it is still too early to say whether the loss would result in program or staff cuts.

Ms. Mensch and Mr. Radday agreed that the bigger concern right now is for the well-being of the 31 students—those expected to be juniors or seniors at the start in September 2014—who would be forced to transfer to Southampton if that district and Tuckahoe do not change course if the merger is approved. “We’re hopeful that some arrangement will be made,” Mr. Radday said.

Ms. O’Hara added that the students from each of the sending districts add something unique to the Westhampton Beach School District. “Of course, we don’t like to lose students,” she said. “The Tuckahoe students—they’re great kids, but we’ll recover from it.”

Robert Grisnik was the only Tuckahoe Board of Education member to vote against the assurance that would pull the students from the Westhampton Beach High School. He said his district would explore the option of using reserve funds to cover the tuition payments to Westhampton Beach so that the 31 students who would be juniors and seniors if the merger goes through could finish their education without transferring.

The Southampton and Tuckahoe districts sent a merger study to New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King Jr. for review last week. Officials said they expect a decision by the end of August. If the commissioner approves the merger, the Boards of Education of those districts can move forward by holding public meetings and eventually by putting the action before the public for a vote.

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