The New York State Education Commissioner has signed off on a merger feasibility study submitted earlier this summer by consultants for the Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts.
The approval from Commissioner John B. King will allow the districts to move forward with public hearings and votes on the merger proposal.
This week, both school districts released the study—which outlines potential changes in staffing, finances and building use if the merger goes through—on their respective websites. On Tuesday night, the Southampton Board of Education publicly discussed the merger study, and the possible merger, for the first time since the study was started earlier this year.
Included in the report is the previously unreleased potential impact the merger would have on both districts’ taxpayers. According to the report, which was conducted by the SES Study Team based in Canastota, if the merger goes through, and the assessed value of a home remains exactly the same, school taxes for Southampton residents will increase by an estimated 8.7 percent, from $2.42 to $2.63 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. But for Tuckahoe residents, the tax rate would drop by nearly two-thirds, from $7.50 to the same $2.63 per $1,000 of assessed valuation that would be levied in the new merged district.
With a number of assumptions in place, an average Southampton homeowner with a home assessed at $500,000 could expect to pay approximately $1,315 in school taxes for the 2014-15 school year. That would represent an increase of $105 from the current year’s projected school tax levy of $1,210.
A Tuckahoe resident with a home assessed at $500,000 could also expect to pay $1,315 in school taxes for the 2014-15 school year. That would represent a decrease of $2,435 from this year’s projected tax bill.
Board members on Tuesday night stressed that the figures are preliminary guesses and subject to change.
“There are a lot of things in this study that are no more than assumptions,” Southampton Board President Heather McCallion said during the meeting. “Although they are assumptions, they do affect the financial impact of the merger, so, hopefully, we will have more answers in the next few weeks.”
According to the report, the tax numbers assume that the 2014-15 budget for the new, merged school district will increase by 2.5 percent, to $71,470,013. It also includes a projected tax levy of $60,471,648. These figures are based on teaching and administrative needs for all four of the district schools. The study states that the number of teachers for grades K-6 will remain the same, but that six fewer instructional program support positions will be needed.
In grades seven through 12, five instructional subject positions are not needed, but the number of support instructors will remain the same, according to the study. The study also suggests the building-level administrative staffing for grades K-12 would be the same in a reorganized school district.
On the district administrative side, 1.8 building administrative positions could be eliminated, as well as one technology position and one secretarial position, according to the study.
In total, staff expenditures for the first year of the new district are expected to be approximately $6,104,634.
“I want to reiterate that the study addresses many things that have nothing to do with this merger,” District Superintendent Scott Farina said. “It addresses some things like staffing at the high school based on formulas that may be used for mergers across the state, but not necessarily how things may happen in Southampton—it is just some suggestions of what the consultants came up with according to their formula. It does not mean it is what Southampton would want to do moving forward.”
On Tuesday, Southampton School Board members said the report gives some very specific numbers on very vague assumptions, and that they wished a scale was given rather than specifics. The board also said the report does not address numerous issues—like the financial impact on both districts if the merger fails and Tuckahoe students chose not to attend Southampton in the future.
With the commissioner’s approval, 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.
The details of the merger will be discussed in multiple community forums scheduled for September 18. Times have not yet been set.
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 2014-15 school year on July 1, 2014.
“This is not just about tax dollars,” board member Andy Brindle said. “It is about how we want the school district to look. Would the district look better with another school combined? Would it look differently? I find it frustrating as a board member that we cannot be more proactive in this process.”