By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
WORCESTER – Less than a month after the Schenevus Central School Board voted to begin talks with Worcester about tuitioning-out, Worcester Central School turned down the proposal, citing legal issues.
“In the beginning, tuitioning for both sides looked good,” said Worcester superintendent Tim Gonzales. “But as we dug deeper and looked more into the legal side, that’s where it got muddy,” he said.
Gonzales consulted with a law firm yesterday evening and determined that tuitioning Schenevus students wasn’t in the best interest for the school. Should Worcester decide to enroll Schenevus students under a tuition agreement, he said, they would be required to prioritize hiring Schenevus teachers to accommodate a larger student body and must do so for seven years.
“The way the statute is, any staff that’s let go becomes part of our staff. They’re put on the eligibility list for 7 years,” he said. “We would have to hire their current math teacher, whoever their most senior person is.”
But should tuitioning cease for any particular reason, Worcester would be obligated to keep the more senior staff member, even if that means terminating a Worcester teacher.
“Let’s say that two years down the road we stop tuitioning and we need to terminate staff. If the Schenevus staff member has more seniority, then potentially our staff could be let go even if they were already here,” he said.
And although Worcester has had a number of concerns since Schenevus made the proposal in December, they only recently confirmed the staffing requirement.
“We had a conversation at our last board meeting to see whether or not this compromised our staff,” he said. If the conversation was true, then we wouldn’t move forward. Our attorneys confirmed that.”
“We are disappointed,” said Theresa Carlin, Schenevus superintendent ” We were hoping this would be a way for us to maintain our sustainability for a little longer, therefore benefiting our students greatly. For Worcester, it would be an opportunity to enrich their programs.
She continued, “Ultimately our district would like to merge with them and having tuitioned out, it would’ve been a positive step towards a merger, so now I feel like we’ve taken a couple of steps back.”
But Carlin admits that Worcester could’ve been more transparent about the situation.
“I don’t think they did their research. I think from the beginning they were very interested,” she said. “At no point did they say that they wouldn’t do this with us, just that they had some concerns that they wanted to have answers to. I won’t say that I didn’t know some of these things existed, but in my mind they seemed like things we could work through, that they weren’t a deal breaker. This came as a surprise to me, I kind of learned of it at the same time everybody else did.”
Worcester may have backed out, but Carlin said there is still the possibility of tuitioning-out to two other schools.
“Milford and Charlotte Valley had indicated to me that they would be interested in having a conversation about tuitioning-out,” she said. “I told them that I would love to have these conversations, but I would ask that you do your research before we do this, because I’m not going down this road again.”
Should the schools agree to tuition-out Schenevus students, however, it may be too late for the 2020-2021 school year.
“All of those decisions need to be made by April 1. I don’t think between now and April 1 we have enough time,” she said. “The feeling that I’m getting from the board is that we’re not going to rush into anything.”
In the meantime, with a merger grant awarded last month, Schenevus and Worcester will begin the process of determining if a merger will work for both schools. There will be a special presentation from Syracuse educational consulting firm Castillo and Silky, who have been selected to facilitate the study, at a Board of Education Meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22 at Worcester Central School.