With a lack of funding for varsity athletics unless an agreement can be reached with another district in the area, the members of the Oppenheim-Ephratah Board of Education are in talks the Dolgeville and St. Johnsville school boards about providing sports programs for their students.
Having shared spring sports during the 2011 - 2012 school year, the members of the Dolgeville and Oppenheim-Ephratah school boards met Wednesday to discuss sharing sports in the fall.
However, before a decision can be reached about 2012 - 2013, the members of the Oppenheim-Ephratah board said they would like to meet with the members of the St. Johnsville board, particularly since the districts could revisit a potential merger during the coming school year.
“I just do not want to burn any bridges,” said Oppenheim-Ephratah Board of Education member Ben Conte. “If sharing sports with St. Johnsville is possible, and if it would help with a potential merger vote, then I believe that is the way we need to go. However, I do not want the people of Dolgeville to think we are using them or consider them to be a fallback. That’s not the case. It’s just I believe if sharing sports with St. Johnsville could lead to a positive merger vote then we have to do it.”
To revisit a potential merger, it would first have to be approved by both school boards and then pass two public referendums to take effect, said Oppenheim-Ephratah Superintendent Dan Russom.
“As it stands now, unless something changes, I see there being no way that our school district can afford to field varsity teams on its own,” he said. “To give our students the opportunity to participate in athletics, we have to reach an agreement with a neighboring district.”
Oppenheim-Ephratah’s $8.5 million spending plan, which would have increased the tax levy by 4.5 percent, was defeated by a vote of 275 - 104 in May. The district’s second proposed budget, which included a 2.79 percent tax levy increase, was defeated by a vote of 176 to 114 in June.
Dolgeville Board of Education President Karen Nagle said Wednesday evening she understood the Oppenheim-Ephratah board members’ need to talk with St. Johnsville.
“Schools exist to provide academic opportunities for children, and a merger with St. Johnsville would be beneficial for both schools in terms of the academic program that could be offered to students. If sharing sports in the fall would help the merger discussions or a potential merger vote down, then it’s definitely something that needs to take place,” she said. “Academics come before sports.”
Nagle added if discussions between Oppenheim-Ephratah or St. Johnsville break down, or should a potential merger be defeated by voters a second time, the Dolgeville Central School District would be interested in tuitioning in students from Oppenheim-Ephratah. She said the district could potentially offer tuition to students in grades 7 to 12 or grades 9 to 12, if an agreement is reached.
Page 2 of 2 - “It would be whatever the Oppenheim-Ephratah board felt comfortable with,” said Nagle. “I know it’s a lot to consider, but these are the types of talks that take some time because so many things have to be considered. We just want the Oppenheim-Ephratah people to know we have an interest.”
“It’s a discussion the board will have to have if the merger were to be defeated a second time,” said Russom. “There certainly would be a lot to consider, but it’s a reality the board may be faced with.”