The future of the relationship between Tuckahoe and Southampton school districts hinges largely on one thing: tuition.
The school boards representing the two districts had a joint meeting Wednesday at in Southampton Village, and the tuition rates that pays to for educating Tuckahoe students dominated the discussion. Tuckahoe does not have a high school of its own, so it sends most of its ninth- through 12th-graders to . Tuckahoe officials said that they have had to cut costs drastically in recent years at their prekindergarten to eighth-grade school to afford Southampton’s tuition rate — but they cannot and will not continue to slash Tuckahoe teachers, administrators and programs from their budget to support high school costs.
Tuckahoe already allows parents the choice of sending their children to Westhampton Beach High School, where the tuition cost to Tuckahoe is less per student. If Westhampton Beach became the only choice, the move could save Tuckahoe taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.Current Rates Westhampton
in Percent Regular Ed. $19,901 $22,695 $2,794 14.0% Special Ed. $61,207 $76,212 $15,005 24.5%
Southampton Superintendent J. Richard Boyes, Ed.D., said he did some research into the history between the districts, and found that in the mid-1980s, the school boards informally came up with a tuition amount. He said it was a simpler time; only nine students were being sent from Tuckahoe to Southampton. Tuition changed annually based on budget or salary increases, and negotiations.
“By the early 1990s, things had formalized more, and people had found out there was a state-approved formula called the Seneca Falls Formula,” Boyes said, and after Tuckahoe requested the formula be implemented for determining the tuition rate, Southampton reimbursed Tuckahoe $385,000 for perceived overpayments in the past.
“It was requested by Tuckahoe — that’s not to say that Southampton clings to the formula as the be all and end all,” Boyes said.
Tuckahoe School Board Vice Chair Dr. Daniel Crough said he foresees the disparity between the two school districts in taxes and costs only growing in the future, with Tuckahoe cutting more costs than Southampton.
In Tuckahoe, property assessments have been declining, while assessments are rising in , which includes multimillion-dollar oceanfront mansions, whose huge tax bills give other taxpayers relief.
“Unfortunately, I think the Seneca Falls Formula is unsustainable for the Tuckahoe School and Southampton,” Crough said.
Tuckahoe School Board member Sharon Grindle was skeptical of the Seneca Falls Formula, and the numbers plugged into the equation to arrive at the tuition rate.
Southampton officials took exception. Southampton School Board President David Dubin said the formula is not arbitrary, and Boyes added unequivocally, “We’re not manipulating numbers.”
Dubin said that Southampton is not be amenable to offering reduced tuition rates if Tuckahoe will still be sending students to other districts. “Quite honestly I don’t think that’s realistic,” he said. Rather, he wants exclusivity, so Southampton knows well in advance how many Tuckahoe students will enroll each year and can plan accordingly.
Tuckahoe School Board Chairman Robert Grisnik said that, as of next year, Tuckahoe will average 40 students annually entering high school.
Dubin pointed out that there is more to consider than just the cost of tuition — Tuckahoe is also currently paying to bus students to two different high schools, with Westhampton Beach being the farther of the two.
Adding to the strain on both school districts’ budgets is a new state-mandated cap of 2 percent on annual tax levy increases. Although Tuckahoe adhered to the cap in its 2012-13 budget proposal, on May 15. The district will put a on the ballot June 19, with a proposed tax levy increase of 0.99 percent.
Tuckahoe Superintendent Chris Dyer said that Tuckahoe struggles with a growing population, which creates both a space issue and a staffing issue. And, he said, the district also has about 25 percent of its budget tied up in tuition. “We do not have control over a large part of our budget.”
Methods of reducing costs for both districts were touched on, many of which had been done in the past, such as sharing food services. Southampton and Tuckahoe have already began sharing some busing costs.
“I am absolutely convinced there are better efficiencies that can be achieved than in the past,” Boyes said.
Nicolas Dyno, the assistant superintendent for instruction at Southampton, said he does not want cost saving measures to come at the expense of the array of electives, advanced placement courses, and other programs that Southampton offers to both its local students and Tuckahoe students.
Boyes said Southampton’s higher tuition costs compared to nearby districts is a function of the services Southampton offers. But, he added, if Tuckahoe stopped sending its students to Southampton High School, “We would not be able to offer the same breadth of programs to our own students.”