By KEVIN LIMITI • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
The last of the Merger Mondays took place Monday, June 14, ahead of Tuesday’s board vote.
The superintendents of Worcester and Schenevus central schools acknowledged the growing pains of a merger, but also argued its perceived importance to a group of about 15 attendees.
Some of the guests included Assemblyman Brian Miller, and Jeff Bishop, communications director for state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Schenevus, who is an SCS graduate.
Miller expressed mostly neutrality for the upcoming vote and said he was there to “show support for whichever way the communities decide to go.”
Oberacker was unable to attend because he was at a parade in Unadilla, a cause of some criticism among those who attended, but Bishop said Oberacker was closely following the developments on the potential merger.
If the vote is approved, there will be a Sept. 22, straw poll followed by a Dec. 3, binding referendum.
If the merger is approved the combined Board of Education would increase from five to seven seats. There also will be state financial incentives for the merger, which BOE representatives say will be used to improve educational opportunities and provide funds to a reserve, while also maintaining the same staff only eliminating positions through attrition, which they say will save $690,000.
Class size will be 22 students or lower.
Much of the merger rationale is based on a study conducted prior to the pandemic, which referenced a declining enrollment for both schools, a problem which in a merged district would be resolved with access to more academics and athletics.
Any additional cost for transportation they say will be minimal.
Anything related to mascots, school colors and team names would be student driven, officials said.
“This is emotional for a lot of people. … We do realize that and recognize that, but we have to do what’s best for our kids and everything in the study shows its best for our kids,” Carlin said.
Miller diverted from his original stance of neutrality briefly to posit about the merger.
“It’s to benefit our children and make our area truly prosper. … Things are really getting tough,” Miller said, referencing state funding. “A merger is really the best thing we can do.”
Some people brought up concerns over whether people from one of the districts would feel like they weren’t being represented by the BOE. Carlin said that the districts “are pretty much identical” in terms of size.
Other people expressed frustration about the perceived lack of attention from the state about mergers.
Stacie Haynes said she “felt abandoned alone on an island.”
“From a state level, they really don’t seem to care,” Haynes said. “A lot of school districts are struggling, we’re just ones that hit the wall faster. … It’s our kids and our kids education that is really at stake here, and some of us are really scared. … Funds are not being distributed equitably in our rural districts. We don’t have the transportation, we don’t have the broadband we need here.”
In response, Miller said, “We’re trying to change how the state does things,” citing regular meetings with the superintendents, but acknowledging the difficulty. “The formulas have to change. Everyone’s expected to do more with less or the same.”
Otsego County Rep. Jennifer Mickle, R-Decatur, Maryland, Westford, Worcester, said, “It’s disheartening to see the divide among people.” She said thought a merger was probably going to happen.
“There’s merger after merger going right down the interstate,” Mickle said. “In my opinion, it’s going to happen sooner or later.”
Andrea Spencer said she felt frustrated by Oberacker’s lack of attendance at the Merger Mondays.
Spencer said Oberacker “had zero interactions with the community on this topic.”
“I know that there’s red tape in politics, but I think it would be nice if he made himself available,” Spencer said. “I think people will listen to him.”
BOE members pointed out they had only invited Oberacker to this meeting in particular.
At the end of the meeting, the BOE representatives and some of the guests expressed that those voting on the potential merger should look at all the facts presented and make a decision.