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State Officials Wanted Southampton-Tuckahoe Merger Vote Postponed

Sen. Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele said they weren't surprised the proposal to merge the school districts failed, but they will work toward legislation to help it pass.

Sen. Ken LaValle, with the red baseball hat, and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, to his right Credit: File Photo
Sen. Ken LaValle, with the red baseball hat, and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, to his right Credit: File Photo
To help pave the way for the merger take place, administrators at the Southampton-Tuckahoe school districts are turning to state officials, who were none too surprised that the proposed merger failed last week.

State Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, said he requested two weeks before the vote that it be postponed because he felt it was not going to pass.

He spoke to Southampton Superintendent Scott Farina, who he said was "very optimistic" that the merger would pass. "That was neither my read or Fred Thiele's read," LaValle said. It's not a good idea to go from failure to success. It's extra encumbrance that you have to go through," he said.

Of the request, Farina said, "At that point the vote had already been announced and scheduled and we weren't able to postpone it."

The merger proposal was defeated by Southampton voters, who would have suffered the brunt of the tax impact, in a 1,075-to-693 vote on Oct. 29, while Tuckahoe voters overwhelmingly supported the plan in a 535-to-35 vote.

Moving forward with the vote "didn't give us an opportunity to put some things on the table that could make this happen potentially easier," LaValle said. "I do believe the vote should have been postponed until we can put on the table for the voters to see what kinds of things the districts could on their own reconfigure and what help we could do at the state level."

Thiele explained that the merger discussion process began after the state legislature finished the 2013 budget. "It was one of those years where an on time budget worked against them," he said. "They held the referendum before next budget process and we never got a crack at it."

Thiele and LaValle both said the merger will be a high priority for them and they do have time, as the feasibility study on the merger, conducted this past summer, is good for two years. They will begin looking at alternatives ahead of the state budget proposal in April.

"We'll work very hard to, at least from the state's standpoint, provide the kind of incentives you need to make sure both districts and its taxpayers are treated in a way that they feel more comfortable in terms of levels taxation," LaValle said, adding that the key is "to make the Southampton part of the ledger more inviting."

LaValle said he's worked through two school district mergers — Laurel merged into Mattituck-Cutchogue School District in 1997 and Eastport and South Manor merged in 2000 after years of discussions — and he'll work to see this one take place, too.

For the Eastport-South Manor merger, it took 18 months developing formulas that were fair to both sides, LaValle said. In the end, special legislation was passed. "We started out in the same place where Southampton and Tuckahoe are," he said. "We will have to look at the uniqueness of these two districts and use the state's education's formulas in a way that would level the playing field."

"The fact that this failed in Southampton did not come as big surprise to me," Thiele said.

Thiele said the legislation created an incentive where the state paid 90 percent state aid through the construction of the high school, which Eastport-South Manor needed at the time. Thiele said there are alternatives to use state aid as a means to eliminate tax increases, average out the tax impact over a period of time, or even phase in the tax reduction that Tuckahoe was going to get over a period of years and use the same funds to flatten the tax increase for Southampton.

"There may be more, there may be others. We have thought about it a little bit, but we really have to dig in," Thiele said, adding that he believes there is a willing audience in Albany because the governor and the State Education Department have made it clear they are trying to foster these types of mergers.

Conservative Underground November 05, 2013 at 02:31 PM
It is government David and from the Federal level all the way down to the local level it is growing increasingly disappointing for the people it is supposed to serve. Why do they do things, who knows, they don't even know but people are getting tired of it, all of it.
John C November 07, 2013 at 04:37 AM
Hey once Tuckahoe pulls the 3 il from Southampton you'll see Southampton school tax increase of 17 per cent now that's what they deserve. for being stupid over a .21 cent per thousand now they will look at a .45 cent increase. Lots of stupid people in the Southampton district. Send all students to Westhampton.

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