ST. JOHNSVILLE - Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District officials are expecting another close vote this month on whether to merge with the St. Johnsville Central School District, but they're unsure which way the vote will go.
A year ago, Oppenheim-Ephratah residents voted down a merger with the St. Johnsville district. The proposal will go up for another vote Dec. 11.
"I really don't have any idea" whether the measure will pass, said Dan Russom, superintendent of Oppenheim-Ephratah. "I think it's going to be another close vote. It's been relatively quiet with regards to people talking about it. ... One way or the other, we'll find out whether the district will move forward or stay single."
Last December, St. Johnsville voters passed the merger 461-79, but it was a much different outcome in the Oppenheim-Ephratah district, where the vote was 458 against the merger and 400 for it.
Because St. Johnsville already approved the merger, voters there don't have to vote again.
At St. Johnsville, Superintendent Laura Campione said she hopes to get an answer so her school can plan for the future.
Campione said she hopes the merger passes this time, but if it fails, at least the district can prepare for the future.
"There's a great deal of preparation that we have to do once we know," she said. "It's been three years that we've been at a halt. We can't order new texts. We can't order new uniforms. I can't wait until it's all said and done, so we can move forward with whatever outcome we have."
Ben Conte, an Oppenheim-Ephratah school board member, said the board has already started working on next year's budget regardless of a merger.
"We're going to try and do what we can do with the resources that we have," Conte said. "We haven't stopped thinking about that. We've started the budget process and have done it as if the merger isn't even on the table."
If the merger is passed, students would remain at their respective district's elementary schools, while Oppenheim-Ephratah would serve as the middle school and St. Johnsville would serve as the high school.
Campione said even without the merger, St. Johnsville is financially sound, but the merger would help the district as the state provides financial incentives for districts to merge.
"We've looked at the next four years. We don't see an increase in state aid, but our fund balance is good," she said in describing the outlook for the district if there is no merger.
St. Johnsville officials are preparing for both scenarios with three- to five-year goals, which include looking at the curriculum and purchasing updated materials.
Russom said Oppenheim-Ephratah also has been preparing for both scenarios, but he said the merger would be the best thing for both districts.
"If it is rejected, the school board is prepared to provide the best resources available to our students," he said. "There [are] a lot of incentives to consolidating the two districts. Operating costs would be lower. Studies show there are efficiencies.
"The incentive aid will provide better opportunities for the kids. A smaller school cannot survive in the world today. Small school districts are really struggling to provide the [core] education to the kids. [A rejection] would present a severe disadvantage for us to provide for our children."
To view a report on the specifics of the merger proposal, go to www.oecs.k12.ny.us/