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The Tuckahoe/Southampton High School Exclusivity Agreement

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

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.    

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Rick Sobrevinas November 28, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I have always thought that this current Board as constituted cares not to be a voice of the community, and indeed does not care for community input that they probably feel does not support this decision. Rather than ask for even the flimsiest referendum from the Tuckahoe taxpayers they are sworn to represen for inputt,, who will bear the brunt of their dismissive attitude, they present everyone with a fait accompli, even though for only a year. And they cannot claim it is even the economically sensible decision on a temporary basis because Tuckahoe would have saved even more money (especially in Special Ed) if they had worked out the same deal with Westhampton that was willing to consider lowering their fees with an exclusivity . Instead, this unresponsive, Neanderthal Board majority chose to make another bone headed decision the likes of which has brought the Tuckahoe School District to its dire straits over the many years, one bone headed decision after another, always oblivious to the ramifications on the community, its real estate values, and what is good for the academic future of its students, as confirmed by our NY state academic rankings. So now, get ready for significant taxpayer real estate flight and enrollment of Tuckahoe kids in other school districts, tantamount to a huge tax increase for Tuckahoe taxpayers who cannot readily sell their homes in these depressed condtions. When will Tuckahoe ever get a break?.
Rick Sobrevinas November 28, 2012 at 02:29 AM
And on economic rationality, this hasty opaque decision made in the dead of night without public comment, does not even pretend to explain the fiscal impact of this decision, explaining in even a perfunctory way how it will impact the academic quality so important to current students, taxpayers or the impact on cost and taxes taxes. This is merely shoving their personal decisions on everyone as if they owned the hamlet and only their decisions mattered. The people need to know and have to have an input. Is this Southampton or Cambodia?
Lou P November 28, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Pretty strong opinions for a guy that sends his kid to school in the Philippines. Let's just say we're shocked you were able to get your point across in just 2 posts. Is there going to be significant taxpayer flight or will it be hard to sell the house in these depressed economic times? This all sounds like sour grapes from people who didn't get what they wanted. In the United States children go to public school in the district in which they live. If they want to go to a different school, its called prep school or private school and then you pay. Most people with children move into a school district to which they want to send their children. If you don't like decisions made in the middle of the night and the depressed economy, vote Republican.
susan November 28, 2012 at 01:40 PM
david, you presented a cogent explanation of the sad situation at tuckahoe school. it is just very sad. my daughter received a fine education at tuckahoe, tho it could have been so much stronger if the powers that be were ready to step into the cutting edge educational theory. times change and we move on. we can try to hold feet to the fire. meantime, embrace change. it may be different but it can be for the better
Mary Beth November 28, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Lou, "in the United States" a taxpayer has the right and duty to question the elected officials in his or her district. Furthermore, the Tuckahoe School District has no high school. Instead, its students are sent to other districts after eighth grade. Westhampton Beach has always been the less expensive alternative. "In the United States" this happens all of the time. You have completely missed the point and instead have chosen to use this article to make a ludicrous political argument.
Faustina November 28, 2012 at 05:39 PM
it is not hard to see where "Phil P" was schooled, or not, in his personal attack on Mr. Sobrevinas ending as usual in the predictable stretch of the diehard Republican Party evangelist. Every issue, every comment, reduced to a personal attack and the Republican vendetta. This is Fox news on the tin can network, or the drums they beat out here. Wouldn't it be enchanting, if one of these party sheep wrote an opinion piece on how the Republ-banking consortiums caused the financial crisis and were bailed out by taxpayers of both parties?
Stinker November 28, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Lou P does have a point. Its freaky that a person who doesn't own a home on the continent and doesn't send their child to a school district in this country would attack the school board. I guess this goes right along with the new federal slogan ''if you see something, say something''.
Bob Schepps November 29, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Got to ask this question. If the golf courses were not taxed via the Seneca Falls Convention and by some other conventional means what would be the exact amount of the difference. I do understand they would pay more but can anyone of you quantify it with a number. Not a range of numbers real empirical hard and fast fact based calculations. Because like the ingredients on a food label we are required to name the largest percentage ingredient first. Since "tax breaks for golf courses" are listed second to the tuition charged by Southampton High school the numbers should fall in line. Or is the cost lost to golf courses just another false argument? The numbers should prove which is witch.
David D'Agostino November 29, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Good question, Bob, and one that should be addressed to the Tuckahoe School Board as it is their assertion, expressed by Mr. Grisnik at the meeting, that it is NOT the tuition being paid to WHBHS and SHHS that have led the school to this financial hole, but the special tax breaks granted to golf courses and declining property assessments that are the real culprits. I too would love a real number on this. I do not believe that the rate the golf courses pay is governed by the Seneca Falls Convention, but, rather, it is something that was lobbied for and then granted by the state legislature.
Bob Schepps November 29, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Again curious minds like to know. How do declining property assessments have anything to do with Tuckahoe School. If property value assessments drop in Tuckahoe that means that somewhere else someone else pays more to meet the funding of the entire budget town school etc. So the house across the street from the school drops in value that only means that their taxes would be reduced and others would rise to compensate. So how do property assessments change anything except driving other home owners in the Town up while Tuckahoe residents will pay less. The school budget gets funded the whole pie is then split using assessed valuation. Help me out to understand why I am not getting this.
Bob Schepps November 29, 2012 at 05:29 PM
I looked up the Seneca Falls convention. I can't seem to tie that together with taxes and golf courses. Its about women's rights again help me out here.
Stinker November 29, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Once again the leadership of a municipal institution wants to blame the financial problems on a lack of income. There is no lack of income here. Tuckahoe spends more per student that 99% of the schools in the state of NY. There is a spending problem. It is not related to tuition as the difference in tuition between SH and WHB is in the $2,000/year student. This is immaterial even in large graduating classes.
Bob Schepps November 29, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Ok so the quiet comes. How bout we address what Stinker has added. Its a spending problem and what that's got to do with Republican vendetta (very Italian Francis) I don't get. The tax ceiling put on real estate taxes by our democratic Governor allows us an opportunity to renegotiate teacher's contracts. By imposing a taxing restraint he changed the four corners of ALL the collective bargaining agreements. This opportunity should not be wasted on simply consolidating school districts but to revamp the whole education funding conundrum. What needs to be addressed is what David lamented in the above article,"disparities in education based on zip code."
Bob Schepps November 29, 2012 at 07:29 PM
AKA Not the fault of an unequal distribution of wealth but the UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF OPPORTUNITY.
Bob Schepps November 30, 2012 at 12:44 PM
I see the Seneca Falls FORMULA not convention.I guess it was a typo or a parapraxia.
Bob Schepps November 30, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Searched 10 pages into engines Bing, Google and Yahoo and cannot find the "formula". Is it a big secret like the Callaway system. If anyone has a link to the formula please post it. Thanks
David D'Agostino November 30, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Bob, the Seneca Falls treaty or convention or formula, or whatever they call it, is like some kind of secret Mason code that only a few privileged insiders have any idea how to decipher. If you're asking me to explain it, you are asking the wrong person. I only refer to that antiquated agreement because it is referred to by those making the decisions.
Stinker November 30, 2012 at 01:35 PM
http://sap.questar.org/publications/guidebooks/nonres_pupils_guidebook.pdf Here is the Seneca Falls Publication with full regulation detail.
Bob Schepps December 03, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Got it. Its not easy to get through but it does not sound like an antiquated agreement to me. It calls for some reasonable ways to determine cost and interestingly enough calls for a review or audit of actual costs so that estimates can be adjusted yearly. It also addresses may types of kids and their specific needs within the school district. Interesting but I do agree you would need hours of QA with real support to fully get the whole thing well enough to apply it to real numbers. I wonder if ever there was a year ending audit to adjust tuition charges to actual expenditures?

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