Hampton Bays block pushes to secede from Riverhead schools

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Bettina Court in Hampton Bays.

When Jennifer Rizzo and her husband Steven bought their Hampton Bays home 15 years ago, they loved the idyllic scenery and privacy of its peaceful location.

But that was before their children were born, and before it really hit home that while their Red Creek neighborhood in Southampton Town is only about 2.5 miles from Hampton Bays schools, it’s part of the Riverhead School District.

It takes about 20 minutes to drive from the Rizzos’ block to Riverhead High School.

That’s one reason why the couple — now parents of three school-aged children — and their Bettina Court neighbors recently submitted a petition to the Riverhead School District asking to be annexed by Hampton Bays.

If the petition were approved, Bettina Court residents would pay less in taxes and be closer to the schools, they say.

“We feel that it is unfair,” Ms. Rizzo said earlier this week. “The Hampton Bays bus actually comes to the end of my block.”

But it seems the movement is stumbling right out of the gate, as the Riverhead school board on Tuesday unanimously rejected the petition, a copy of which was not immediately available for review by this newspaper.

District officials said the petition asked for the area to be annexed by Hampton Bays, which is not the proper legal procedure. Instead, according to New York State Education Law, residents would have to seek to redistrict the neighborhood,

But that’s not the only reason for the rejection.

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney told the News-Review the district could also deny the request because of the tax revenue it would lose. Riverhead, like most districts statewide, has financial constraints, thanks to the loss of $2.6 million in state aid and a $2 million increase in pension costs for 2011-12.

“In order to seek an alteration of district boundaries, both Boards of Education of the [two] districts involved would have to agree,” Ms. Carney wrote in an email. “As Riverhead is a large district with many communities close to other districts, it is not in the best interest of the district to pursue such a request. It is our firm belief that students in the Riverhead School district receive a quality education. Loss of tax revenue is a basis for denying such a petition.”

If the street were to become part of the Hampton Bays district, Riverhead would lose the tax revenue from about 15 homes, none of which, according to residents, sends children to Riverhead schools.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Carney put it more succinctly when she said altering district lines would be “opening a can of worms,” as it could set a precedent for other residents to pursue similar measures.

A Southampton Town resident living in the Red Creek area who owns a home assessed at $350,000 paid $5,480 in taxes for 2010-11, $4,323 of which went to the Riverhead School District, according to data provided by the town assessor’s office. A resident who owned a $350,000 house in the Hampton Bays school district paid $4,967 in taxes for the same year, $3,742 of which went to the schools, a difference of about $500.

If the Riverhead school board declines a revised petition, the only other option for Bettina Court residents is to ask the commissioner of the State Department of Education to intervene, Ms. Carney said. And in that case, the residents would have to prove that their children would be negatively impacted by attending Riverhead schools.

Many of the neighbors said it’s a fight that has been going for years, but that it’s worth continuing.

“We are actually closer to Hampton Bays than the people who live across the street [who live within the Hampton Bays district],” said Bettina Court resident

Pamela Ryan. She said she’s sent multiple letters to the Southampton Town Board over the years, but the issue has resurfaced now because Ms. Rizzo has school-aged children.

“I investigated this about four years ago,” said John Zuccarelli, a Bettina Court resident and Southampton Town Planning Board member. “It’s strictly a tax factor,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a factor of having a better education.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Rizzo, who lives in one of only two houses with school-aged children on the block, has instead opted to send her three children to private school.

“They play with Hampton Bays kids, we use the Hampton Bays library, we do everything in Hampton Bays,” she said. “The bus ride alone would be a killer for them.”
[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.