School Districts Move On After Failed Mergers
A proposal to merge two Southern Adirondack school districts recently was defeated. As WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports, schools often have to find new ways to move forward in challenging economic times.
In early January, community votes in the school districts of Northville and Mayfield were held to determine if the two would merge. While the school boards of each district initially approved the merger, voters in Northville voted against the proposal, while those in Mayfield supported it. Without the support of voters in both districts, the merger could not go through.
Now, Dr. Joseph Natale, interim superintendent at Mayfield, says the district will look to find new ways to work around some of the cost-savings associated with the merger proposal.
"We'll look at our budgets, monitor our state aid, work under the tax cap, and provide the best education we can to our students, and do the best we can as opportunities allow us to try and provide some support services for our students as well," Natale.
New York’s property tax cap can be a challenge on many districts trying to find revenues to pay for necessary programs and improvements. Dr. Natale said that while it presents a challenge, Mayfield has managed to operate under the tax cap.
"Mayfield has always proceeded under the tax cap and we'll continue to do that," said Natale. "We'll just look at other sources of revenue to see what we can do in terms of enhancing our students' education and at least avoiding further cuts."
According to a September report released by the New York State School Boards Association, mergers can have distinct pros and cons. Pros include saving money through economies of scale, providing more educational choices, and making districts more eligible for state aid. Cons often include a hike in taxes in one or more communities, longer bus rides for students, and increased class size.
Barbara Bradley of the New York State School Boards Association said in recent years, as more districts are considering mergers under the tax cap, only a handful of full mergers have been successful.
“We've only seen two that have been successful - Mohawk and Ilion in the central area of the state, and then Oppenheim Ephrata and St. Johnsville in Fulton County," said Bradley. "Otherwise the ones that we've seen that for whatever reason, one community might vote for the merger, the other might vote not."
Bradley said that the School Boards Association is seeking legislation that would eliminate the initial public straw vote in the process for a prospective merger.
In 2012, a merger study conducted for the Ichabod Crane and Schodack School districts revealed that taxes would rise in the Ichabod Crane district, and would lower in Schodack. Eventually, the Ichabod Crane school board decided not to move forward with a public vote on the merger, and the matter was dropped.
However, Robert Horan, superintendent of Schodack Central School District, said that while not a merger, the district found new ways to collaborate and consolidate with the neighboring New Lebanon district.
“For example we have a shared transportation supervisor with New Lebanon," said Horan. "We have shared mechanics with New Lebanon."
Horan said mergers should always focus on expanding academic opportunities.
"As we receive less and less aid from the state and we have to remove programs we have to look at...how we can come together to enhance programs without a cost," said Horan.
Schodack has opened its doors to students from other districts to take certain classes including Mandarin Chinese.
Dr. Jospeh Natale of Mayfield says his students will still receive a quality education.
"Mayfield will proceed to provide a quality education for all of its students," said Natale. "Our priority will be teaching and learning."