Schenevus and Worcester schools look ahead after merger vote fails

Schenevus and Worcester schools look ahead after merger vote fails

By Kevin Limiti

After community members voted down the Schenevus-Worcester schools merger on December 2, disappointment and a feeling of missed opportunity permeated in those who supported the union of their respective districts.

The final tally showed 70 percent of Schenevus community members voting against the merger. Worcester voters, on the other hand, voted to approve by a 64 percent – 36 percent margin.

State Senator Peter Oberacker (R-Schenevus) told The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta that he would work in Albany to find more funding in next year’s state budget.

“Now that the vote has been registered, my job on the Education Committee is to see if I can champion more funding or see where that funding could go,” he said.

The Senator said tapping into the state’s education foundation aid, which seeks to create equitable distribution of funds to schools, is unnecessarily complicated.

Foundation aid is determined by the cost of educating a student, differing levels of student need, cost of living throughout the state, and district funding capacities. Complex equations in the state aid handbook determine foundation aid outcome.

Senator Oberacker quipped they would need “a computer the size of NASA” to decipher school funding.
He acknowledged the tumultuous nature of the merger vote and its impact on the two communities.

“This was a highly emotional subject,” Senator Oberacker said. “So we’ll get back to our nuts and bolts.”

State education law allows the Schenevus Central School District has the opportunity to hold one re-vote on the question in a year’s time if voters so choose.

Schenevus Central School Superintendent Theresa Carlin said the community must file a petition in order for a re-vote. Existing law would require supporters to gather approximately 30 signatures, allowing a new vote that would take place between December 2, 2022 and December 1, 2023.
School district officials await further guidance on the topic from the state but expect that any such petition could be filed beginning November 2, 2022.

Ms. Carlin said she does not anticipate additional state aid resulting from the merger’s defeat but would have no official notice until after the New York State Legislature approves the state’s spending plan in April 2022.

“They have some decisions to make,” she said, referring to the Schenevus Board of Education. “They could use some of the fund balance, they could use a tax increase.”

Schenevus Board of Education president Timothy Walke said the contentious vote created division in the community, but with the vote complete, “the community had spoken.”

“It isn’t like we’re going to close our doors tomorrow,” he said, stating Schenevus possessed $2 million in its fund balance as of June 30, 2021. “We’re going to do the best we can for the kids and the community.”

Mr. Walke said he opposed the merger and that many in the community told him had it led to centralization rather than annexation, they may have voted differently.

Worcester Central School Superintendent Tim Gonzales said he was disappointed in the vote’s outcome but believed the Worcester Central School remained financially solid.

“Financially, we’re very set,” Mr. Gonzales said. “We’ll continue to offer programs to our students, but we’ll have to do it separately.”

Stacie Haynes, a resident of the Schenevus school district and former board of education member, called the defeat “incredibly disheartening and disappointing that the community chose not to support children.”

“We made this decision knowing we need a capital project,” Ms. Haynes said, citing mold issues and a leaking roof.

Ms. Haynes hoped they would bring the vote again up in a year “for the sake of the children.”

“But the school board is very much against merging,” she said. “They proved they’re excellent campaigners. I don’t see why in a year anything will be different. The only thing that can change the vote is if they see what happens during the budget season.”

Ms. Haynes said she fears massive cuts in the school district and a tax increase of as much as 10 percent.

“They might change their minds then,” she said.


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