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East End schools need flexibility

Members of the Southampton school district Board of

Members of the Southampton school district Board of Education held a meeting at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton, November 12, 2014, about the upcoming vote on a proposed merger with the neighboring Tuckahoe school district. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The tiny school districts scattered across the East End are in a jam. Costs are rising, especially for those that only go up to sixth or eighth grade and pay tuition to send high schoolers elsewhere. The state tax cap severely limits their ability to raise revenue fast enough to keep pace with hikes in those tuitions. Tuckahoe, one of those districts, has failed twice to merge with Southampton to solve its fiscal woes.

There is a ray of hope in Albany, however, in the form of state legislation that would let districts band together to create their own regional high school. It should be passed. Financially strapped school systems should have the tools they need to deal with hard financial realities.

Under the legislation, districts would sign a contract that would spell out, for example, each one's financial contribution to the new high school. That would defuse complaints about unequal tax burdens like the ones that derailed the Tuckahoe-Southampton mergers. Each district also would have membership on a board that would run the school.

That's preferable to the situation in East Quogue, which has had to cut academic programs because it now pays more to send students in grades 7-12 to Westhampton Beach than to educate its K-6 students in-house -- and it has no representation on Westhampton Beach's school board. Some districts pay more than $20,000 in per-pupil tuition.

Daunting logistics face the several South Fork districts interested in such a plan. Studies must be done, numbers crunched, transportation and facility questions resolved. Then voters in each district must approve the concept. But they deserve the chance to have a choice.

The legislature should get this done, and let the East End's school systems make better plans for the future.