Approximately 25 people attended a similar community forum about the proposed merger on Thursday night at Tuckahoe Elementary School.
The meeting, which lasted about two hours, featured the same presentation from members of the SES Study team, followed by a short question and answer session with the audience.
During the presentation, most community members seemed in favor of the proposal, noting the tax incentives for Tuckahoe residents, as well as a better education for students. However, there was fear that Southampton residents would not see the educational benefits for their children, and would vote down the proposal because of increased taxes for them.
“I am a little concerned,” one Tuckahoe resident, Bill Dalsimer, said. “I think there are financial and educational advantages to approving this merger, but I am scared another group of voters will say, ‘This is not for me.’”
Also at the meeting, Tuckahoe Board of Education President Bob Grisnik addressed one parent’s concerns about the Tuckahoe students currently attending Westhampton Beach who could be pulled from the district and sent to Southampton. According to Mr. Grisnik, the board was aware that many parents were upset, but added that the issue has not been closed yet. He added that the first step is for the merger to be approved, then energy can be spent fighting to keep the Westhampton Beach kids in their current district.
The Tuckahoe board will vote as to whether the merger should go to a public vote on Monday, September 23. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in the school library. The Southampton board is expected to vote on October 1.
The Southampton School District hosted the first of two community forums on Wednesday night to discuss the proposed merger between the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts.
During the roughly two-hour meeting, approximately 50 people—including board members, administrators, teachers and Citizen Advisory Committee members—listened to a presentation by three members of the SES Study Team, which conducted a nine-month study of the proposed merger.
Most of the presentation was focused on the potential look of the new district, but stressed that nothing proposed in the report was final—merely a suggestion for both boards. The report was approved by New York State Education Commissioner John B. King last month.
According to the study, the proposed combined budget for the new combined school district would be approximately $71.5 million in its first year, the 2014-15 school year.
Only a handful of residents asked questions at the forum on Wednesday night, most surrounding the financial ramifications of the merger. While no one was outright opposed the proposal, some did express their support for the plan.
“I am very much in favor of this annexation,” resident David Rung, whose house lies on the border of both school districts and pays taxes to both, said. “I think it is for the common good of the community.”
A key concern expressed at the meeting was what would happen in the future. According to the study team, if the merger fails, or the districts opt to wait a few years, the financial situation could be much worse for both districts. If the Tuckahoe district was annexed now, the Southampton district would acquire little to no debt, as Tuckahoe would pay off its minimal debt services at the time of the merger using reserve funds.
Another concern addressed by the study team was that if the merger were to go through now, the new district would be eligible for increased state aid. However, if in a few years the state education department forces the merger, the aid might not be available.
“I understand there is a movement afoot by Southampton district residents who ask, ‘Why should I pay for their taxes?’” Mr. Rung said. “But I would hope the community would rather support the common good of both districts, and know that the common good can offset their particular concerns. However, I do understand their stance in the issue.”
The possibility of the merger has long been discussed by the two districts, but the study was not begun until last October, when both boards voted to move forward. According to Tuckahoe Superintendent Chris Dyer, the difficult decision was forced by the financial situation of his district. Mr. Dyer estimates that due to the state mandated 2-percent tax levy cap, the district will have exhausted all of its reserve funds by the 2015-16 school year.
The current 2013-14 budget for Southampton is $61.9 million, and the current budget for Tuckahoe is $18.5 million. A budget of $71.5 million for 2014-15 for the merged districts would be approximately $8.9 million less than the two districts’ combined 2013-14 budgets, which total about $80.4 million, even without taking into account increases that could be expected in their separate budgets between 2013-14 and 2014-15.