As the Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts approach the start of a merger feasibility study, one of many information sessions concerning Tuckahoe School’s future has been slated for Thursday, November 29.
The district has invited local lawmakers, including U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., as well as Southampton School District administrators, to sit in and listen to the hopes and concerns district officials have.
Citing changing economic times as the impetus for the discussion, Tuckahoe School Superintendent Chris Dyer said he expects the meeting to enlighten the government officials on Tuckahoe’s academic programming and background, issues it faces within its community, and the property tax impact on the school’s budget. The merger feasibility study is not a talking point on the agenda, but Mr. Dyer said it could come up.
Of course, the idea of consolidation weighs on many people’s minds as Tuckahoe fights against high tuition rates for high school students, increasing tax rates and unfunded state mandates, all while trying to deliver the same academic programs it has offered to students for years.
Mr. Dyer said on Friday he had not yet heard from Mr. Bishop or Mr. LaValle. Mr. Schneiderman and Mr. Thiele have both confirmed their attendance at the meeting and said they hope they can be of some help.
“It’s a conversation worth having,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Hopefully, I can play a helpful role.”
Realizing that the Tuckahoe School District is in a tight spot, especially after new state mandates have been implemented, as well as the 2-percent tax levy cap, Mr. Schneiderman said he is interested in finding a way to lower property taxes in the district. He said a merger is a logical step. “In this case, both areas could see their taxes go down through efficiency and consolidation,” he said. “It makes good sense, but when it comes down to power sharing—who gets to make the decisions—that’s where the challenge will come.”
Mr. Thiele said unfunded mandates are a major issue for Tuckahoe School, like for most districts, and also expects that among the solutions discussed, the idea of consolidation will arise.
“I think the Tuckahoe-Southampton discussion is a real one,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an idle or casual discussion. It’s something I would want to help and assist, whether financial assistance to offset the cost of the study or just to facilitate that discussion.”
While Mr. Thiele said the Tuckahoe School District is facing the same financial problems as many other districts across the state, he said Tuckahoe has always had a number of issues in regard to assessment values. Just this year, assessments dropped 18 percent in some Tuckahoe neighborhoods.
“LaValle and I have helped Tuckahoe with issues before,” Mr. Thiele said, noting it was concerning the school’s pre-K program budget language and aid money for loss of assessed value. “It’s a continuing issue that they want to discuss.”
The public information session is slated for Thursday, November 29, at 6:30 p.m. at Tuckahoe School.