Editorial On Tuckahoe-Southampton School Merger

Editorial in The Independent, August 27, 2014


Just Say No — Again

Southampton School District officials are stubbornly moving ahead with their plan to consolidate with Tuckahoe School district even though there appears to be no tangible benefits to its taxpayers.

Tuckahoe currently pays tuition to send its graduating eighth graders to Southampton, and its school tax rate is triple that of Southampton. The merger will raise taxes by hundreds of dollars a year in Southampton when fully implemented.

Southampton voters soundly rejected the plan last year, but district officials are bringing it back like a vampire that refuses to stay in his coffin.

Give credit to Tuckahoe School officials and its school board members. With no south-of-the-highway mansions to bolster its assessed valuations, and wrestling with the Albany imposed tax cap, Tuckahoe faces a daunting financial future. The merger would result in significantly lower taxes for property owners there. We get that. Unfortunately, it takes two to tango.

Southampton School Board members represent the residents that elected them. Their job is to do what is best for their constituency. One resident complained the board members, “walk lockstep with the administration” and that is a sad state of affairs.

Tuckahoe School Superintendent Chris Dyer was quoted saying, “We are very appreciative of Southampton leadership pursuing educational opportunities of the merger to provide relief to all taxpayers.” But it doesn’t. It provides tax relief only to the residents of his district, roughly one quarter the size of Southampton School District. Four times as many households will feel the bite for years to come.

While the merger makes perfect sense for Tuckahoe, it is difficult to fathom why Southampton officials keep insisting it will be beneficial for their district.

Scott Farina, the Southampton District Superintendent, said the merger would result in “enhanced learning opportunities,” and “Help maintain extracurricular activities.” This is Superintendent Speak – mere gobbledygook. The school has fared nicely for as long as old-timers can remember.

This isn’t really about improving efficiencies or the academic product offered to our youngsters. The master plan is to build a new building for administrators.

Merger talk has been going on for a long time, but intensified in recent years. Graduating Tuckahoe eighth graders have the choice of attending Southampton or Westhampton Beach High School. Not coincidentally, Westhampton is a much better school academically, something proponents of the merger keep neglecting to acknowledge.

Southampton officials are willing to saddle their property owners with a huge tax increase to push Westhampton out of the picture permanently. It’s a nervy play by Farina, who is shoving this plan down the throats of the very people who pay his salary.

Tuckahoe officials are willing to grant Southampton exclusivity – eliminate Westhampton Beach High as an option for its graduates – as part of the merger deal. It’s a tough trade off, and a contentious one in Tuckahoe, but one the majority of residents feel they have to make. That is understandable. But it is also true Tuckahoe could have seen this coming sooner.

For years the district was top heavy on administrators – Montauk school district is twice as big as Tuckahoe and has operated with a superintendent who serves as principal for two decades. Tuckahoe also pays the same astronomical salaries to its teachers as the wealthier districts hereabouts do – salaries twice and three times as much as teachers in some other communities around the country make. The district needs to more aggressively explore shared services with other districts as an alternative to consolidation. Maybe Tuckahoe needs to find out how much Southampton will bend if it opts to send all its graduates to Westhampton Beach, or solicits proposals from other nearby high schools that may have excess space.

Be forewarned: school administrators are by definition empire builders. When the call for consolidation came down from Albany the most vociferous opposition came from – you guessed it – school superintendents who realized their jobs would become superfluous.

They want to build more buildings, hire more staff, and raise their own salaries. The bigger the district, the larger the salaries – literally.

And how many administration jobs will be cut due to the “efficiency” this merger will bring? We all know the answer, and like a stale joke, taxpayers are the butt of it.

The Independent, August 27, 2014


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