Updated 03/04/2013 07:39 PM
More mergers possible in Madison County
School district consolidation is not a new idea in New York. The state has whittled down from more than 11,000 school districts more than a century ago. Now the consolidation conversation is picking up again in some parts of the state. Looking at two districts considering a merger, YNN's Andrew Sorensen explains why the process has become such a popular option.
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MADISON COUNTY, N.Y. -- Just about the only thing separating the Stockbridge Valley Central Schools and Madison Central Schools is the half hour drive down Route 46.
"We have two districts that are similar in size, very similar in operation and very similar in staffing," Madison Central School District Superintendent Perry Dewey said.
"People are very proud of their school, they'd like to maintain it," said Dr. Patrick Curtin, Stockbridge Valley Central School District Superintendent.
But maintaining them is getting harder with rising costs.
"Health insurance for example, retirement, material and supplies, utilities, so all of those are a challenge. And on top of that, we're trying to stay within the two percent tax cap," Curtin explained.
"The ability to create offerings above what the basic educational needs are of students, it's a struggle for us," said Dewey.
Curtin said, "The economies of scale would help."
So Dewey and Curtin are leading two districts looking to merge.
"On the surface it appears it would be helpful, but there are so many other components," Curtin said.
School district mergers have become something of a 'sign of the times,' with smaller districts around the state all looking at the same options more and more.
"I have some familiarity with the process," Dewey said.
In his more than 30 years in education, he's seen three attempted mergers. None were successful. Only six reorganizations have been completed in the last 13 years, but several have started the process recently.
"I think this is something that comes maybe more to light during more financial (sic) difficult times," Dewey explained.
Why are people looking now?
"What the state provided were opportunities for districts to apply for a grant to look and explore the possibilities," Curtin said.
That made it attractive to look, but it's also attractive to go ahead after a reorganization study.
"It would provide us with 11.9, maybe $12 million-worth of state aid, merger incentive aid," Dewey said.
But it's a long road to get there and whether the districts take it will be up to their communities.
Stockbridge Valley and Madison Central School Districts have created some 'What If?' scenarios of how their merger would work. They'll be available on the districts' web sites before their school boards decide whether to take the effort to a straw vote this spring.