Four East End school districts—Tuckahoe, Southampton, Hampton Bays and Springs—plus the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, are planning to reapply for $200,000 in state funding to finance a consolidation study. Governor Andrew Cuomo this month announced that $4 million would be available through the Local Government Efficiency Grant Program, which is meant to help local municipalities find ways to reduce costs and save taxpayer dollars through consolidation and reorganization.
The Tuckahoe, Southampton, Sag Harbor, Hampton Bays, Springs, East Hampton and Montauk school districts, and Eastern Suffolk BOCES applied for the competitive grant in March of last year but found out in October that they failed to qualify for the funding. With the March 13 deadline quickly approaching, some of the schools are gearing up to try again. East Hampton School Board members said they were not interested in applying this year, however, and Sag Harbor and Montauk schools have not yet expressed a desire to join the application process.
According to school officials, Southampton Town Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone is encouraging district officials to meet with him about the reapplication process, and someone from the Department of State may attend the meeting to help the consortium of schools rewrite the application for a better chance of qualifying for the grant.
Mr. Zappone said that he decided to coordinate the effort because shared services between municipalities has been an agenda item for Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst since day one, and also because consolidating programs, transportation and the like could benefit taxpayers.
“We are separate municipal entities and we don’t have a legal connection to each other, but we’re joined at the hip,” he said about the area’s school districts. “School districts are a part of the township and it is in our best interest to help them.”
Springs School Superintendent Dominic Mucci seemed positive on Tuesday, saying he thinks there’s a chance of garnering funds this year.
“I think it will be different,” he said. “The liaison might be able to walk us through alterations in the application and show us what pieces we missed so our next attempt goes through.”
In June 2011, Springs reached an agreement with the East Hampton School District to lower the tuition rates that East Hampton charges to send their students to its high school. As part of that agreement, East Hampton agreed to undertake a consolidation study with Springs; the deal has since been expanded to the other districts.
With one study currently under way, East Hampton School board members decided last week not to throw in for another study. Board member Jackie Lowey said at the School Board meeting that she is not interested in administrative consolidation with Southampton, but would perhaps be interested in sharing services.
Along the same lines, the Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts have also entered into a joint merger feasibility study, but both districts have decided to participate in a second study.
“Our current reorganization efforts are at the forefront,” Tuckahoe School Superintendent Chris Dyer said. “This study simply gives us another vehicle to look at responsible educational activities in a broad, more regional perspective. It’s another way of looking where we’re going.”
Both school boards are also looking to jointly apply, separately from the group, to underwrite the cost of a two-district merger feasibility study currently under way. If awarded, each district would receive $35,000 to cover the $70,000 expense.
The need to cut costs exists across the board, and the Hampton Bays School District is not exempt, according to Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen.
“It is important for us to apply again because the need to find efficiencies in our operations still exists,” he said. “If the study yields a plan to achieve those efficiencies and still deliver a first class education, then that is a win-win for the Hampton Bays taxpayer.”
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Tuesday that because the grant program was competitive, all he and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle could do to help the districts in their venture is to write a letter of recommendation, as they have done in the past.
Mr. LaValle’s spokesman, Drew Biondo, echoed Mr. Thiele and said that the districts should focus on submitting the strongest application possible to be considered for this very competitive grant.