Residents of the newly merged Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville school district will head to the polls on Jan. 29 to decide how many members should be on the new board of education — five, seven or nine — and how long the members should serve per term — three, four or five years. On March 19, voters will elect members from a slate of board candidates.
Until a new board of education is elected, the members of the current school boards and the superintendents from both districts have remained busy looking at bus routes, curriculums and finances as they prepare to have the new school district operational by its July 1 start date.
“We have been extremely busy meeting at St. Johnsville or meeting here in Oppenheim with a variety of people,” Oppenheim-Ephratah Superintendent Dan Russom said during a meeting between the current Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school boards last week. “A lot of effort and work is being put into this by everyone, as we are all well aware this is not going to happen overnight.”
“This is an exciting time for us as educators, as for the first time in a long time we are not looking at making cuts, but rather we are looking at making additions,” said St. Johnsville Superintendent Laura Campione. “It’s also exciting to think that we are going to be able to offer our students a true grades 6-8 middle school experience and all the programs and opportunities that come with it.”
Oppenheim-Ephratah voters approved the merger of the two districts in December 2012.
St. Johnsville voters approved the merger in December 2011.
“When it comes to forming or shaping the new school district, we are following the recommendations made in the merger study and have been doing what the study says to do,” said Russom. “We look to the study as a guide. We are not trying to reinvent the wheel here.”
Some of the district residents who attended last week’s meeting expressed concern about the Jan. 29 vote, raising questions about the number of years board of education members would serve.
“It’s going to be hard if we vote on new members every three years,” said resident Nan Denino.
Russom said after the board members are voted in, they can stagger the terms so all the members’ terms do not end at the same time. Oppenheim-Ephratah school board President Ben Conte added local officials have talked to state officials about this issue, and others, including whether or not there will be a polling place at Oppenheim-Ephratah, but have not received a definitive answer.
The districts’ officials have been receiving guidance from Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel throughout the merger process.
“In order to propose a budget within the time limit set by law for a vote, Dr. Michel has asked us to create a proposed spending plan for the new board of education,” said Russom. “The new board will assume authority over the district as soon as they are elected. Once they are in place, the board will begin the work of selecting a superintendent, negotiating new contracts with the bargaining units and finalizing the budget, which will be put up for public vote on May 21. It’s going to be a busy time.”
Page 2 of 2 - Campione added representatives from the two districts will continue to meet regularly to get everything set for the new district. She said staff and students will be involved in the process.
There will also be opportunities for parents and students to attend open houses, including an open house on Jan. 31 at 5:30 p.m. at St. Johnsville Junior - Senior High School. A meeting of the two districts’ boards of education will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the school’s auditorium.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone to come out and see what our new high school looks like,” said St. Johnsville school board President David Christopher Mosher. “Even if parents or students have been inside the school before, I encourage them to come out and tour the building and become familiar it.”
Russom said the transition committee will plan activities to bring staff and students to together.
“When the doors open in September, everyone will have had some type of opportunity to have talked to and met each other,” he said. “It’s important to bring everyone together.”
Polls for the Jan. 29 vote will be open from noon to 8 p.m. at D.H. Robbins Elementary School in St. Johnsville.