Gov. to districts: Consider consolidation

By Brandi Bailey

March 19, 2013 Updated Mar 19, 2013 at 7:05 PM EST

(WBNG Binghamton) Local districts share the same financial story: Shrinking state aid, a tax levy cap that's too low and dwindling (or worse) money in the bank.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week there is a solution: Merge.

Cuomo has said districts in financial trouble should merge, rather than asking Albany for additional funds. He called it an obvious choice.

"The governor trivialized the process and made it sound like 'Just go and merge,' when in reality it's not anywhere near that easy," said Maine Endwell Superintendent, Jason VanFossen.

A merger means taking into account students, staff, financial and legal planning and location, among other critical decisions.

"It really depends on the geographic location," VanFossen said. "If you have two large rural schools, there's very little savings. But when you have two fairly close suburban schools, then you're probably going to be able to save on that consolidation."

The state provides advice and guidelines to districts considering a merger; and 40 percent more funding for five years during the change.

However, making the decision to merge doesn't just rest with school boards or administrators.

"The bottom line is it's a community decision and every potential merger of two or more school districts requires the acceptance by vote of all of the community affected by the merger," said Union Endicott Superintendent Suzanne McLeod.

A merger also means looking at school programs, opportunities and contracts to make sure a student's educational offering is enhanced rather than hindered by the change.

"You're going to share resources ... You're probably going to consolidate buildings, you're going to be able to offer your students different programs," VanFossen said.

Locals schools agree it's a legitimate option for districts in trouble, but one that can't be made without careful planning and acceptance by the communities.

Some local school districts are discussing possible mergers, including Chenango Valley and Chenango Forks, and Spencer Van Etten and Candor.