The New York State Assembly is considering legislation that would change the standards required for petitions to alter school district boundaries.
According to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., who introduced the legislation, under the current law there are no standards in place for such a petition, which means school districts can summarily reject them regardless of merit.
There have been several cases on the South Fork where residents have proposed school district boundary alterations in recent months, noted Thiele, with proposals rejected with little or no consideration of education impacts.
In an interview on Monday, Thiele said two of the most recent examples have been in Southampton. A portion of the Tuckahoe School District lies in Southampton Village, and neighbors there have sought to alter that school district boundary line to send their children to school in the Southampton School District. Similarly, a neighborhood in Red Creek in Hampton Bays is technically in the Riverhead School District, despite the fact that it is actually situated in Hampton Bays.
In Tuckahoe, parents argued they paid taxes far higher than their neighbors because they were located in the Tuckahoe School District and not in Southampton. Parents in the Red Creek, Hampton Bays neighborhood located in the Riverhead School District made a similar argument. Both were rejected.
“Most of the current school district boundaries on the East End were established in the 1950′s and 1960′s pursuant to a 1947 State law. At the time, large areas of the East End were undeveloped,” said Thiele. “Over the last 60 years, the region has undergone substantial growth with changing demographics and some school boundaries no longer make sense for students and families. School districts have routinely rejected any changes not wishing to lose any tax base without any regard to the impact on school children.”
“This proposed law would change that,” he added.
Under the proposed legislation, a majority of qualified voters in a territory could petition the regional BOCES superintendent in the region where the school districts they hope to alter are located. The school districts in that region would be given 90-days to negotiate any alteration to school district boundaries. If no action is taken or the petition is rejected, the citizen petitioners could request a public hearing and within 30 days the district superintendent would be required to issue a findings statement explaining the decision to reject the application.
In the findings, the district superintendent must consider student educational opportunities as measured by the percentage of students performing at each level of the statewide mandated assessments, said Thiele. They would also have to consider student attendance, graduation and dropout rates, as well as the safety and welfare of pupils within each school district.
Geographic accessibility to neighboring schools, and all funding sources of the affected school districts, including the impact to their tax bases, must also be considered in the superintendent’s decision, said Thiele.
Where the transfer involves 10-percent or more of the student population, of any district, the petition would be subject to a referendum approval in each of the districts affected, added Thiele.
“Alteration of school district boundaries should not be easy, but it should not be impossible either,” said Thiele. “Such decisions should be based on what is in the best interest of the students affected, not just tax base. School boards should be required to articulate the basis of their decisions consistent with legitimate education policies.”