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New approach may be needed

September 20, 2012
The Leader Herald

Another proposed school district merger failed in our area this week.

Northville Central School District voters Tuesday decided against a proposed merger with Mayfield. Northville residents decisively voted 457-256 to continue as a separate district despite the clear advantages of approving the merger.

Voters in Northville passed up more state funding and educational opportunities for students at a time many districts statewide are facing financial difficulties. Painful budget cuts likely will be in the Northville district's future.

The failure of the Northville and Mayfield school districts to merge is the latest futile, state-funded effort to get two local school districts to join. In November, the proposed merger between the Lake Pleasant and Wells Central School districts failed. While voters in Wells approved the idea, Lake Pleasant district residents voted 257-73 against it. In December, voters in the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District rejected a merger with the St. Johnsville school district by a vote of 458-400.

The state awarded $35,000 for each study to help cover the cost. On top of that, the state provides districts that merge with a significant increase in funding.

It's unfortunate local residents aren't seeing the value in school mergers and consolidation. The state is giving people an opportunity, but they aren't taking it.

Is it time for the state to rethink its strategy? Does the state need to come up with more incentive money to make mergers worthwhile? Should the state devise a way to ensure significant property- tax reductions in both merging districts? Should the state offer more incentives for sharing services and consolidating programs among neighboring schools? These are questions state officials should examine.

Despite warnings from educators about the consequences of failing to merge small districts, voters continue to say no. Maybe the loss of school identity - in which voters have demonstrated they take a great deal of pride - is not worth the financial incentives the state currently offers. Perhaps voters are uneasy about combining their schools with others before sharing some of their programs and services first. Whatever the reasons for voters' rejection of merger proposals, the current list of incentives and advantages either isn't enough or voters aren't understanding it.



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