It appears that in the very near future, perhaps as early as this week, Tuckahoe students will no longer be offered the option of attending Westhampton Beach High School.
After years and years of board members meeting with Southampton High School to try and negotiate reduced tuition costs for our our 8th grade student, SHHS has finally relented, but, in return, they have demanded an exclusivity to all students. This same offer was not extended to WHBHS, despite the fact that they have charged us considerably less for many years and that, for the last two years, a majority of Tuckahoe students and their families have opted for WHBHS.
I understand the board is faced with some extremely tough decisions regarding the future of Tuckahoe and that the outlook is grim at best. Not long after this exclusivity is granted, residents of Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts will have an opportunity to vote on merging the two districts. At face value, this is a no-brainer as both schools are extremely top-heavy with administrative costs that could be consolidated and lowered. We assume that there will be some tax benefit for Tuckahoe residents, but there are no solid numbers at this point. What is less clear is what affect this will have on the education of our children. A Tuckahoe 8th grader attending last night's board meeting, her voice shaking, tears in her eyes, asked the board if she would be able to choose Westhampton, she was told that choice would probably not be available. This student was overwhelmed and buried her face in her father's shoulder and wept. Her heartfelt and sincere reaction is a poignant reminder that these decisions, based entirely upon financial considerations, have a deep and real emotional impact on our children.
Speaking for myself, I do not believe that the Tuckahoe board was strong enough in these negotiations with SHHS. Both schools speak of “community” and our responsibilities as part of that community, but that spirit has been non-existent for years. Tuckahoe has been suffering financially for quite some time, but SHHS has remained stubbornly steadfast in their commitment to the Seneca Falls Convention, an antiquated and ludicrous formula that schools use to determine costs. Had SHHS worked with Tuckahoe over the years in reducing what they charge us to send our students to their school, perhaps we would never have ended up in this untenable situation. But we are here and the board has clearly stated their position. Because this exclusivity “agreement” is only for one year, the Tuckahoe Board can simply approve it without a community vote. Tuckahoe Students currently attending WHBHS will apparently be “grandfathered” in and allowed to stay (note: the rates charged by WHBHS for these students is currently far lower than SHHS and, even after this agreement will still be more than competitive), but there is no guarantee to these students beyond this year.
Tuckahoe Board Member Bob Grisnik spoke eloquently and emotionally about this decision. His time at Tuckahoe has not been without controversy, but one thing is clear, for the last 40 years he has worked diligently to keep the school alive and thriving. He was clearly pained and saddened by the realization that the future of Tuckahoe is uncertain and that it seems inevitable that, in a matter of just a few short years, the school may no longer exist. The future of Tuckahoe has far reaching and significant implications for this community, its property values and its desirability.
Tuckahoe school has for years been burdened by excessive tuition charged by Southampton High School (our tax rate is nearly triple that of Southampton School District residents), tax breaks for golf courses and declining property assessments while our local legislatures have stood by and paid lip service to our district. Yes, they have worked to bring us dollars from the state, but, when faced with the larger, more difficult challenge of asking golf courses to pay their fair share they have declined to participate. I have corresponded with our State Assemblyman on this very issue and his response was basically, “That's the way it is.” He told me that to try make the golf courses pay their fair share would be nothing more than “political grandstanding”. This Thursday Tuckahoe will be meeting with our local politicians to discuss the real world ramifications of education and tax policy, but it is really too little, too late.
There are huge reforms needed in our educational system, but the issues of quality education and our children's futures have taken a back seat to a myopic focus on cost savings and standardized test scores. Governor Cuomo's 2 percent tax hike has been terrible for Long Island Schools. The decision of whether or not to approve a school budget had always been in the hands of the taxpayers, to take that away in favor of education-killing austerity measures was short-sighted, its impact far-reaching and, in the case of Tuckahoe, one more nail in the coffin of quality education. The acceptance of tax breaks for golf courses (we have FIVE in the Tuckahoe School district and they all receive special dispensation from paying school taxes), while the average home owners' rates rise and schools erode, is an immoral acquiescence to the status quo, another gift to the powers that be while the average citizen is overwhelmed.
Wanting my son to stay at Westhampton Beach High School did not bring Tuckahoe to the verge of extinction. Hoping my daughter would have the same opportunity is not ignoring the needs and wants of younger students. I want all kids to have a choice of quality education. I wish the board had played hardball, that our politicians had more courage to fight the real challenges, that our schools were not funded by property taxes, and that there were not disparities in education based on zip code.
Tuckahoe families with high school kids in Westhampton and siblings still at Tuckahoe may have to accept the fact that our kids will not be able to attend the same school, but to assert that our motivation to fight for that choice is selfish is to deny the long history of Southampton High School's excessive tuition rates and implacability. Remember, by choosing Westhampton, the families of the 49 Tuckahoe students currently attending WHBHS have saved the school literally hundreds of thousand of dollars. There is an inherent unfairness in telling someone who has been good to you for so long that you have opted to ignore their kindnesses in favor of making a deal with the guy that's been beating you up for the last couple of decades.