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Southampton, Tuckahoe school districts to again seek merger after failed attempt

Students sit in the front hallway at Southampton

Students sit in the front hallway at Southampton High School in Southampton to protest the defeat of a proposed merger with the nearby Tuckahoe School District. (Nov. 1, 2013) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts will once again attempt to merge after voters wary of tax hikes rejected the idea last year, the Southampton superintendent said Friday.

The districts are aided by state legislation signed Aug. 5 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that allows Southampton to tap $9 million it has in reserve for a new administration building to offset a tax hike expected to result from a merger. That increase proved unpalatable to Southampton residents in last year's vote. The building would no longer be needed if the consolidation moves forward, officials said.

The bill also allows the districts to phase in the merger's tax impacts over 10 years.

"Ultimately, the decision whether the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts should merge is one to be made by the local school boards and resident taxpayers," Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), who sponsored the state legislation with state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), said in a news release. "We have given them the tools they requested to maximize the financial benefits of a merger."

Southampton Superintendent Scott Farina said Friday that he'd like to hold a "straw vote" this fall, and potentially hold a referendum in January. He said a merger would save the districts a combined $4 million a year, based on a budget analysis the districts recently completed.

"It would allow us to take advantage of economies of scale, and run educational programs more efficiently," he said.

Tuckahoe officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Tuckahoe residents, whose taxes are three times those in Southampton, approved the merger in October. But Southampton voters overwhelmingly rejected it, with many saying they feared the tax hike that would result from equalizing tax rates in the two districts.

Southampton, which comprises an elementary school, an intermediate school and a high school, had 558 students in the 2012-13 school year. Tuckahoe had 149 students in its single school, which is prekindergarten through eighth grade.

Farina said the merger would allow the district to open an early learning center for young children and turn its intermediate school into a "true middle school" for grades six through eight, rather than five through eight.

He also said it would erase the prospect of Tuckahoe contracting with another district for high school, which he said would severely hurt Southampton's high school programs.

The Southampton school board will discuss the merger on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Southampton Intermediate School music room.

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