With voters in the Southampton School District last month striking down a proposed merger with the Tuckahoe Common School District for the second time in as many years, cash-strapped Tuckahoe might look to the west for a solution its problems.
Across the Shinnecock Canal are two suitors open to taking on Tuckahoe’s high school-age children, as well as the millions of dollars in tuition that come with them.
Westhampton Beach Superintendent Michael Radday and Hampton Bays Superintendent Lars Clemensen both said they have the space to take on the roughly 140 high school students residing in the Tuckahoe School District, assuming Tuckahoe would be willing to pay tuition. Both administrators said it’s too early to discuss a potential merger without doing studies—but neither ruled it out.
Prior to signing an exclusive tuition agreement with the Southampton School District two years ago, Tuckahoe allowed its ninth-graders to choose between Westhampton Beach High School and Southampton High School. Students already attending Westhampton Beach after the exclusive tuition agreement were given the option of remaining there to finish their high school education; currently, there are 14 seniors and nine juniors from Tuckahoe still attending Westhampton Beach.
The Westhampton Beach and Tuckahoe boards of education met Monday night to discuss their options moving forward. Mr. Radday said the discussions were “very preliminary,” but that Westhampton Beach said it would like to be a part of Tuckahoe’s long-term solution.
“We’ve always welcomed the Tuckahoe students and provided them with world-class learning opportunities,” Mr. Radday wrote in an email. “We look forward to doing so in the future.
“Ultimately,” he continued, “unless Southampton steeply discounts its tuition, we are able to provide Tuckahoe students with outstanding educational opportunities at a lower cost.”
Westhampton Beach’s out-of-district annual tuition rate is $20,851, but Mr. Radday said the district offers a $500-per-student discount to districts with exclusive tuition agreements with Westhampton Beach, including the Quogue, East Quogue, Speonk-Remsenburg and East Moriches school districts.
Southampton, on the other hand, charges tuition of $21,263 per pupil, per year, meaning, on a base level, Southampton would collect $2.98 million in tuition for taking on 140 Tuckahoe high schoolers, while Westhampton Beach would bring in $2.85 million in tuition. That would be a roughly 4.4 percent savings for Tuckahoe. Both districts charge a higher tuition rate for special needs students to cover the costs of additional services and programs.
Meanwhile, Hampton Bays would be the most cost-effective option for Tuckahoe, as that district would charge about $17,374 per high school student, based on the State Department of Education’s recommendation from 2012-13, Mr. Clemensen said, meaning a total tuition bill for Tuckahoe of about $2.4 million. Currently, Hampton Bays has only two children, both from a single family living in the Red Creek neighborhood on the north side of Hampton Bays, for whom tuition is paid to the Hampton Bays School District, as their neighborhood is technically part of the Riverhead School District. No Tuckahoe high school students currently attend classes in Hampton Bays.
Mr. Clemensen said he believes Hampton Bays would be well-equipped to handle Tuckahoe students because both districts have similar demographics, each consisting of student bodies that are more than half Latino, with large numbers of immigrant and non-native speakers.
“I do think we’re well equipped to meet really diverse students—we have students who are language learners, we have students with learning disabilities, and we have a wide variety of programs to serve all students,” he said. “I think Tuckahoe students would be well-served by a Hampton Bays education, just as Hampton Bays kids are.”
Both administrators said they would likely have to use some of the tuition money to hire additional teachers, and Mr. Clemensen said his district might have to consider having teachers share classrooms during different periods of the day, which is something they don’t currently do.
Beyond tuition agreements, there exists the possibility that Tuckahoe could explore a merger with either Westhampton Beach or Hampton Bays. Under current state law, there are several options for a merger, including combining two or more school districts to create a new district, as was the case in Eastport South Manor, or a bigger district annexing the smaller district into the existing structure, which was attempted with Southampton. If Tuckahoe was to attempt a merger with either Hampton Bays or Westhampton Beach, it is more likely to be annexed, eliminating the one-school district altogether.
For a merger with Hampton Bays, the process would be the same as the failed Southampton merger, since the neighboring districts have contiguous borders. Both communities would require two referendums with a favorable majority for the merger to be complete. A merger between Westhampton Beach and Tuckhaoe would be a much more detailed process, because legislation would have to be drawn up at the state level allowing for two districts that do not share a border to merge. Once that legislation was approved, the process would be the same and require a straw vote and a final vote.
Despite the openness of both districts, Tuckahoe Superintendent Chris Dyer said the number-one option remains trying to make a merger work with Southampton.
“We discussed our hope to pursue a merger with Southampton as a first option,” Mr. Dyer said of his board of education’s meeting on Monday night. “Our board chairman has reached out to Southampton’s board prior to our meeting with Westhampton Beach last night.”