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New deputy education commissioner has steered district mergers

State Education Commissioner John King and the Board

State Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents have appointment Cosimo Tangorra as Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education. Credit: New York State Council of School

A school superintendent with a statewide reputation for carrying out successful district mergers is taking a top spot in Albany's oversight of elementary and secondary education.

School leaders on Long Island and elsewhere praised the appointment Wednesday of Cosimo "Cos" Tangorra, 44, of upstate Herkimer, as the state's new deputy education commissioner for preschool through grade 12.

The Board of Regents unanimously approved Tangorra's selection at their monthly meeting in Albany.

Colleagues described the new deputy commissioner, whose two teenage children attend public schools, as a man who cares deeply about students and understands the day-to-day problems facing the state's nearly 700 districts.

"His heart's in the right place," said Lorna Lewis, schools chief in Plainview-Old Bethpage. She and Tangorra have served together the past four years on the 10-member governing board of The New York State Council of School Superintendents.

The council, in a statement, acknowledged Tangorra's leadership in school district consolidations -- a subject of growing debate on the Island as well as upstate. Tangorra played a role in the two successful mergers in New York since 2008.

He currently is superintendent of Central Valley schools, a 2,300-student district in the Mohawk Valley region that is the product of a 2013 merger of the Ilion and Mohawk systems.

From 2002 to 2004, he headed another district in the area, Oppenheim-Ephratah, where he was involved in consolidation talks that contributed to an eventual combination with neighboring St. Johnsville.

In an interview, Tangorra acknowledged that local factors largely govern the success or failure of merger attempts. He said, however, that certain universal principles apply.

"In any district, if you can be more efficient and effective, and do more for students, why wouldn't you?" he said.

Tangorra takes the $163,000-a-year deputy commissioner post later this month; an exact date is yet to be set. He succeeds Kenneth Slentz, who resigned earlier this month to become superintendent in upstate Skaneateles.

District mergers, while relatively rare, are getting a push from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders. They have approved tax incentives in 2015-16 and 2016-17 for homeowners in school systems and municipalities that save money through consolidations and other streamlining.

Many local school leaders remain skeptical of outright consolidation, saying such moves could cost more in contractual raises than they save. Others say more limited moves toward shared services may be worth a try.

Next month, the Southold and Greenport districts will begin operating under a single superintendent.

"I do think there is genuine interest in seeing whether these kinds of agreements can work," said David Gamberg, the Southold schools chief slated to also run Greenport's system.

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