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Complaint: Mostly summer residents derailed Southampton-Tuckahoe school merger

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) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A group that helped derail the merger between the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts consists mostly of second-home owners who summer in the Hamptons, spawning grumbling from residents and officials about outside influence in last week's vote.

The nonprofit Southampton Association spent about $10,000 on mailings and newspaper ads, urging the defeat of the straw vote, the group's president, Jay Diesing, said Tuesday.

Southampton voters rejected the proposed merger, 1,075 to 693, while Tuckahoe voters overwhelmingly approved it. It needed to pass both districts before binding votes would take place in December, and would have saved the combined districts $8 million next year, according to a merger study.

Southampton and Tuckahoe school district officials said they may resurrect the proposal for another vote next year.

Though about 35 to 40 percent of the association's 300 members are year-round residents, the rest spend their summers or weekends in the Hamptons, Diesing said. That distinction upset some proponents of the measure, he noted, citing one email that said, "We shouldn't be allowing these second homeowners to tell us what to do in our school."

"I think that's kind of offensive," Diesing said. "This is a democracy and the American way."

Tuckahoe school board chairman Bob Grisnik said Tuesday that the Southampton Association's campaign might have influenced the outcome.

"They ran a lot of ads, and they were all negative toward the merger," he said.

Under the proposal, taxes in Southampton would have increased by more than 8 percent in the first year, according to the study, while Tuckahoe taxes would have decreased by 65 percent.

School taxes in Tuckahoe are three times higher than in Southampton, which has beachfront houses whose owners pay large property tax bills.

Tuckahoe parents expressed anxiety at a meeting Monday night over where their eighth-grade and high school students will attend school next year. District officials said they could send them to Southampton, Westhampton Beach or Hampton Bays.

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