Last week’s announcement that students living in the Tuckahoe School District and now attending Westhampton Beach High School will be able to remain there next year brought sighs of relief from roughly two dozen students and their families who have said they felt cast aside by district officials.
Had voters approved the proposed merger of the Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts last month—a plan projected to save millions—those Tuckahoe students now enrolled at Westhampton Beach would have been required to attend Southampton High School next fall, uprooting some in their senior year.
But even after voters in Southampton overwhelmingly rejected the merger proposal in October, the students’ future remained uncertain as Tuckahoe officials said they were considering other options for all their students if other neighboring districts offered lower tuition rates. The Tuckahoe School District, which educates children from kindergarten through eighth grade, has traditionally allowed parents to choose to send their children to either Southampton or Westhampton Beach high school.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Linda Purrazzella, whose son, Alex Patricolo, 16, will be a senior at Westhampton Beach High School next year.
She explained that she chose to send him there in the ninth grade because she felt that Westhampton Beach offered better academic opportunities for him than Southampton.
Last year, when Tuckahoe began discussing the proposed merger as a solution to its deep financial problems, the Board of Education sent a letter to Ms. Purrazzella, a copy of which was provided to The Press, stating that the district would “grandfather” all students in the Westhampton Beach School District, allowing them to remain even if Tuckahoe merged with Southampton.
But the Southampton School District later required that those students attend Southampton High School as a condition of the merger, a move they said would save roughly $1 million and, essentially, tied the hands of Tuckahoe school officials. Facing deteriorating financial circumstances, especially with the introduction of the state-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap, the board voted 2-1 to move forward with the proposed merger, despite that requirement.
Ms. Purrazzella rallied with other parents against the merger, filed a grievance with the New York State Department of Education and prepared to rent a home in Westhampton Beach as a last resort to ensure that her son could finish his high school career in Westhampton Beach. “It was our only option,” she explained.
Uprooting her son in his senior year would have forced him to acclimate to a new school, new teachers and new classmates at a time when he should be focusing on applying to colleges and performing on rigorous AP courses, she explained. “It’s just been skirted,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh well. Too bad.’”
On Tuesday, Alex said he competes in cross-country, indoor and outdoor track and field, and hopes to be captain of those teams next year. Beginning at a new school with a new coach and new teammates would have deprived him of all he has worked for over the past three years, he said.
Earlier this month, with students still unsure where they would be attending school next year, the Tuckahoe Board of Education approved a one-year exclusivity agreement with Southampton while merger discussions continue. Board members also announced that the 27 seniors and juniors currently attending Westhampton Beach would be permitted to continue attending school there. However, 10 students, now sophomores, still could be uprooted in their senior years if a merger is approved before they graduate.
Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday said he was pleased to learn that the students will be able to stay in Westhampton Beach. “We’re just very happy that they will be able to remain,” he said. “We believed from the beginning that it was in their best interest to do so.”
Tuckahoe Superintendent Joseph C. Dyer and Southampton Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Robert Grisnik, the chair of the Tuckahoe Board of Education, said that while the possibility remains that the 10 sophomores could be required to attend Southampton in the future, the entire board feels that they should be permitted to finish their education in Westhampton Beach. He also said they will attempt to discuss that issue with Southampton school officials in the future.
“We always have been advocates for them and we will continue to be advocates for them,” he said of the district’s high school students. “That’s the right thing to do for the children … Morally, the right thing to do is to let those children continue their education in Westhampton Beach.”