Worcester, Schenevus merger up for December 1 vote

Worcester Central School would serve grades 6 through 12. (Facebook)

Worcester, Schenevus merger up for December 1 vote

By Kevin Limiti • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

Schenevus and Worcester Central school districts vote December 1 to decide whether they merge the districts, a move which has divided residents.

If approved, the Worcester Central School district would annex Schenevus. The Schenevus school building would retain its name and dragon mascot, and function as a Kindergarten-through-fifth grade elementary school. Worcester Central would host grades 6 to 12.

Voters approved the merger in a non-binding straw poll in September 2021; the December 1 vote is a binding referendum.

Schenevus Central School superintendent Theresa Carlin said the issue was emotional, but one that makes financial sense.

Under the plan, New York State would give an additional $10.8 million to the district over a period of 14 years, with $1.1 million in the first year as an incentive for merging. In addition, the ratio the state pays for capital projects would increase, with the state paying 98 cents on every dollar.

“Let’s just say it’s a $10 million project,” Ms. Carlin said. “That project would cost residents $1.6 million, but would cost only $200,000 if we were a merged district. That’s a huge incentive.”

The school districts have tried five times to merge in the past.

The superintendent said financial concerns at Schenevus Central drive the merger effort; adding that the situation in Worcester, while not as dire, is heading in what she called “the wrong direction.”

“Worcester benefits because they’ve been losing enrollment and they are going to be in the same position as we are,” she said. “Let’s be honest: Nobody does something unless it benefits them. There’s work involved in this. I personally think Schenevus is going to benefit more because we’re cutting, cutting, cutting. But this gives (Worcester) an opportunity to improve their financial situation. It’s a win-win for both districts.”

Ms. Carlin acknowledged an increase in transportation costs, but said, “The cost is so minimal it’s not even worth mentioning.”

The merged district would need to decide whether shuttles, staggered bus times, or other methods of transportation would be the most cost efficient. Officials anticipate knowing more details in the summer of 2022.

Worcester Central School Superintendent Tim Gonzales echoed many of Superintendent Carlin’s sentiments while emphasizing the need for the respective communities to make their own decision.
“I hear a lot of people saying (the merger) is positive,” he said. “They think the programs will be more enhanced and that this should’ve happened years ago. Others, though, say they like their schools and don’t want it to change. It’s kind of a mixed bag.”

He said the majority of people he heard from think it is a good idea to merge the districts.
Mr. Gonzales said studies suggest the merger would allow for a more diverse academic offering, and more electives “even at the elementary level.”

“We ourselves can’t tell people which way to vote,” Mr. Gonzales said of himself and Ms. Carlin. “I understand there’s a lot of commitment to the communities and they may vote ‘no.’ Our job is to give them all the information they need to make an informed decision.”

He characterized as ‘misinformation’ local stories about teachers losing jobs and buildings closing.

Stacie Haynes, a former member of the Schenevus school board and a longtime supporter of combining the schools, and said the Schenevus fiscal situation was dire enough to warrant the merger.

She said insufficient tax revenue and a structural budget deficit exacerbate the district plight.

“We sort of hit a wall,” Ms. Haynes said. “Schenevus was forced to make several cuts and the options weren’t good.”

“We either could cut our programs so badly that New York State would say that we could no longer be a school, or we could raise taxes at a significant rate” Ms. Haynes said. She estimated taxes could be raised by some 10 percent just to cover program costs.

She said they conducted a merger study with Worcester and determined it to be a possible solution.

“It’s really a fabulous option we have in front of us, but there’s a lot of opposition,” Ms. Haynes said. “My kids deserve the same education as those who are asking people to say ‘no.’ It’s truly a sad situation and one that’s tearing the community apart.”

Ms. Carlin said the need for funding was important when deciding on the merger.

“I’m a data person and all the data points to this being the best thing we can do,” Ms. Carlin said. “I know there are a lot of emotions around this but we have to separate that. These schools will not survive unless we fund them. There isn’t enough funding.”

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