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The Times
  • Oppenheim-Ephratah votes to merge with St. Johnsville

  • One year after rejecting the proposal, residents in the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District on Tuesday approved a merger with the St. Johnsville Central School District.

    The binding referendum passed with 385 votes in favor, and 366 against.

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  • One year after rejecting the proposal, residents in the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District on Tuesday approved a merger with the St. Johnsville Central School District.
    The binding referendum passed with 385 votes in favor, and 366 against.
    St. Johnsville residents did not participate in Tuesday’s referendum, as a majority of the school district’s voters already approved the merger proposal last December.
    “Whether you voted for or against the merger, I thank all those who voted,” said Oppenheim-Ephratah Superintendent Dan Russom in a statement. “This was a difficult decision, and it was important for the community members to voice their opinion at the polls.”
    “With the merger question now decided, we can move forward with our goals that have been on hold as we waited for the result of the merger vote,” said St. Johnsville Superintendent Laura Campione-Lawrence in a statement. “This is an exciting time for education in our community, and I look forward to working with the Oppenheim-Ephratah students and parents.”
    Russom said the merger will help both districts financially by paying for 98 percent of any construction in the first 10 years of the merged district and an additional $14 million in aid over 14 years to make improvements, expand curriculum, stabilize property taxes and build savings. He said the districts will also benefit from higher state aid on the remaining capital debt, saving $390,000.
    “I’m just pleased that it passed and that we can start looking at a better future for not only the Oppenheim-Ephratah district, but the St. Johnsville district as well,” said Russom during a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “Throughout this process I have been telling people that as a result of this vote we would either build something or tear something down. I look forward to having the opportunity to help build a new school district and to be able to provide all of our students with more educational opportunities. To build a school from the ground up will be exciting for everyone.”
    In the coming months, residents in the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school districts will be asked to vote in additional referendums, the next of which will take place in January 2013 and will ask voters 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.
    In subsequent referendums, residents of the new merged district will vote for board candidates, and later on the new school district’s first budget. Once elected, the board of education of the merged district will select a superintendent and begin working on a contract with the new teachers’ union.
    In the meantime, Russom said the current boards of education have a lot to do.
    “The first thing we are looking to do is to meet with our attorneys and consultants to start talking about what we can and what we should do before the new board of education is elected and before the new district begins operation on July 1, 2013,” he said. “Throughout this process the boards will rely heavily on people who have experience with school mergers and who have gone through the process before to ensure everything is done legally. Yes, it’s going to be a lot of hard work, and yes, for the next seven months we still have our own districts to look after, but we have to do our part to help in the transition to the new school district. It’s going to be a rewarding challenge.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Oppenheim-Ephratah residents voted down the merger by a vote of 458 to 400 last December.
    State law allows for residents to petition the state Education Department to conduct a revote for school mergers. Oppenheim-Ephratah residents submitted a petition in November seeking a revote.
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