November 20, 2013

Déjà vu All Over Again

Voters in the Southampton School District soundly rejected a proposal that called for the merger of that school district with its Tuckahoe counterpart. It was no surprise – taxpayers in Southampton would have to shoulder a significant tax increase if the merger became a reality.

So why, according to published reports, are the two school districts still discussing a merger – in executive sessions, no less? After all, the public has spoken loud and clear.

This situation is similar to one that exists in Springs, where school taxes are significantly higher than in contiguous districts. Springs school officials and residents have repeatedly floated the idea of a merger – for 25 years – and for good reason: their taxes would decrease, as would be the case in Tuckahoe.

As has happened in East Hampton, the two districts are pointing out financial aid and tax breaks may be available. Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle, when quizzed, have said there are usually funds available in Albany for such mergers – but when pressed, they acknowledge there is nowhere near enough money to offset the inequities.

The truth is, property owners in Southampton and East Hampton districts on the average have paid far more for their homes than in neighboring districts to the north. Yes, their school taxes are proportionately lower, but the overall cost of home ownership dollarwise is much higher when mortgage payments and the like are factored in.

More to the point, though, it's the law. Residents of each school district decide their own fate. Each of us made the decision to purchase our homes knowing what school district they were in.

We don't blame Tuckahoe residents for being disappointed, but we chastise the Southampton School Board for continuing this charade. Suggestion to school board members: You were elected by the people to represent the people. The people have spoken loud and clear. Tell your school administrators to end the merger discussions, period.

Yes, economies of scale can be achieved by consolidation. But there are a lot of little school districts that have forged their own identity and want to keep it that way. Our school administrators must look away from mergers that will likely never be approved by voters and towards shared services, bulk purchases, and a regional administration office to cut costs – for all taxpayers, regardless of what district they reside in.

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