A schedule for a vote on a proposed merger between the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts has been released this week, pending a favorable decision from the New York State Education Department.
State Education Commissioner John King is expected to approve or deny the application to pursue a merger by the end of the month. His approval would allow both districts to put the proposal to a vote.
The commissioner will base his decision on a financial and feasibility report that an independent company presented to him earlier this summer after collecting a year’s worth of information.
If the commissioner gives the go-ahead, the first step will be for each district’s school board to vote on the proposed merger at a regularly scheduled meeting. If either board fails to approve the proposal, the proposition will die immediately. If both boards approve it, the merger will go to a separate straw vote in each district on October 29, when taxpayers can decide whether they want to move forward.
There would then be a final vote, scheduled for December 5—a full community referendum, with the two districts voting together. If the merger is approved at that point, the Tuckahoe School District would become a part of the Southampton School District at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
At a Tuckahoe School Board meeting on Monday night, board members heard from parents who remain upset that 31 students currently attending Westhampton Beach High School will not be allowed to finish their high school education where they started it if the merger goes through.
One parent, Linda Purrazzella, said that if Southampton was forcing Tuckahoe’s hand in not allowing high school students to graduate from Westhampton Beach, Tuckahoe should not have agreed to pursue the merger. She said she has filed an injunction for the State Education Department to dismiss Tuckahoe’s assurance to Southampton that its students would leave Westhampton Beach High School when the merger takes place.
“The issue is that we were given assurances,” said Ms. Purrazzella, whose son would have to change schools for his senior year. “The merger could be a good thing, but not when you are throwing away 20 students and adversely affecting them.”
Although board members sympathized with Ms. Purrazzella, they maintained that it was necessary for the board to agree to transferring the students in order to get moving on the merger study. Board President Bob Grisnik added that, in his mind, the issue is not dead, and that after the board votes, the district will resume talks with Southampton about letting the students stay.
Board member Daniel Crough agreed, and said the district fought hard for the rights of the Westhampton Beach students, but at the end of the day the district needed to move forward.
“Over the past three years, we have seen some very serious problems financially for Tuckahoe,” Dr. Crough said. “We have talked about consolidation that entire time, so this is not a new conversation. But as far as the students in Westhampton go, we had a chance to save money by sending kids solely to Southampton. Even then, because all of these things were transpiring, we understood that Tuckahoe could give all these assurances, but if there is a merger, the Tuckahoe board no longer has the power to guarantee anything.”