An undated file photo of a school bus on Long...

An undated file photo of a school bus on Long Island. Credit: Newsday

Six East End school districts and Eastern Suffolk BOCES plan to seek state funding for an efficiency study to examine district consolidation and sharing of services.

The districts requesting a New York Department of State grant are Springs, East Hampton, Montauk, Sag Harbor, Southampton and Tuckahoe, according to a news release issued Tuesday by Springs Superintendent Michael Hartner.

The study would examine all options, ranging from the least transformative -- the sharing of services -- to the most extreme -- consolidation -- and all variations in between, he said. The six South Fork districts have an enrollment of 5,892 students and cover an area of about 140 square miles.

"We have nothing to lose, and a great deal to gain -- the possibility of improved educational opportunities for children and reduced costs to taxpayers," Hartner, the author of the grant request, said in a statement.

Sharing of services could not occur without authorization from the school boards involved, Hartner said. District consolidation could not occur without both authorization by the boards and a public referendum.

If the districts get the Local Government Efficiency Grant, each district and Eastern Suffolk BOCES would pay $2,777 to participate. The Department of State would contribute $175,000, bringing potential funding for an efficiency study to $194,444.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. has repeatedly promoted consolidation efforts. He mentioned Long Island and Westchester County last fall as places with "lots of very small districts in a very concentrated geographic area" where mergers could save money.

Some cash-strapped districts on the Island, facing declining enrollments, have voted to close schools or operate under a grade-restructuring model known as the Princeton Plan.

In Nassau, a state-funded effort to consolidate countywide operations of school districts and other government agencies, launched in 2009, has yielded $9.5 million in savings so far, officials announced last week. Suffolk and scores of its school districts also have bid jointly on natural gas to save on heating costs.

"School districts are under tremendous pressure to try to make their dollars stretch the furthest they can," Gary Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said Tuesday. "And looking at new shared services or expanding shared services or looking at consolidation -- which districts have tended to shy away from -- all these options are on the table. "Possible shared services could be purchasing, payroll, benefits, transportation, administrative or even special education, Hartner said.

The grant application is due in Albany March 21. The collaboration of the six districts and Eastern Suffolk BOCES came about from a tuition agreement last June between Springs and East Hampton that included a rider committing the two districts to participate in a study of district consolidation.

The grant is competitive, and districts will find out in June if they will receive the funding.

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