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The Times
  • Oppenheim-Ephratah prepares for school merger vote

  • With residents of the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District set to vote again on whether to merge their district with St. Johnsville, the board of education last week discussed possible money-saving measures in the event the merger proposition is defeated. One measure discussed included possibly shuttering t...
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  • With residents of the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District set to vote again on whether to merge their district with St. Johnsville, the board of education last week discussed possible money-saving measures in the event the merger proposition is defeated.
    One measure discussed included possibly shuttering the high school and tuitioning out students to Dolgeville, Johnstown or St. Johnsville, if an agreement could be negotiated with those districts.
    “If this merger isn’t passed, I think we should look at tuitioning out students pre-kindergarten through grade 12,” board of education President Ben Conte said during the discussion.
    Conte suggested the district should begin gathering information about tuitioning out students and should also consider applying for a state grant to conduct the necessary study.
    School board member Cheryl Lynch said in talking with state officials, she was told Oppenheim-Ephratah at best could hope for three to five more years of financial solvency.
    “I asked them, ‘If the merger is voted down and the budget is voted down, how long can we last?’ Their response was ‘three to five years,’” she said. “How long will we last if we are just an elementary school? The reserves we have are only going to last so long, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
    “We’re trying our best to survive in a time of severe economic hardship with ever increasing academic needs for our students. Our students’ needs aren’t going away and how we’re going to pay for them, we don’t have an answer right now,” said Superintendent of Schools Dan Russom.
    The merger vote will take place Tuesday, with the polls open from noon to 8 p.m. at the school.
    Only residents of the Oppenheim-Ephratah school district will vote for the merger, and they must approve it by a majority. In a vote last year, St. Johnsville residents supported the merger, 461 to 79, but Oppenheim-Ephratah voters rejected it by a vote of 458 to 400. If Oppenheim-Ephratah residents reject the merger again, the district cannot revisit a merger with St. Johnsville.
    Russom said the merger would bring along $14 million of incentive aid over a 14-year period.
    “Our academic program is pretty bare bones. We do not have a lot of fluff. We have one elementary teacher per grade level and classes run in the low- to mid-20s,” he said, adding the incentive aid would provide better opportunities for Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville students.
    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. The new district would begin operation on July 1, 2013, if the merger is approved.
    Russom last week said he did not have any idea whether the merger would pass.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It has been relatively quiet,” he said, adding the district did not field any requests from residents for copies of the merger study. “The only requests we had were for absentee ballots.”
    The board of education’s next regular meeting will take place on Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m.
    The board will also meet on Jan. 10, 2013, at 6 p.m. to further discuss the 2013 - 2014 budget.
    “I don’t know what we’re going to cut out of here that’s not going to hurt something,” said Conte.
    “It’s almost as if we’re down to nothing,” added school board member Susanne Sammons.
    To view a report on the specifics of the merger proposal, go to www.oecs.k12.ny.us/
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