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Cary Brunswick

March 21, 2009

School merger questions will be asked

Now that a state commission has called on Albany to push _ if not force _ schools to merge, the fiscal crisis surely will put the merger issue on the table again during the next few years.

Several schools have merged in this area over the decades, but several others have thrown the option to voters, only to have it rejected. On both sides, it is always a controversial and emotional issue.

You can tell from a list of school names which districts were formed by merger. There's Una- and -tego, there's B and G, CV and S, G and MU, C and R, G and C, and S and E. And you realize by the presence of the letters that the communities involved were concerned about preserving some identity in the merged district.

When districts in the town of New Berlin merged in the 1990s, people gave up their identity for a name that makes geographic sense: Unadilla Valley, after the river valley that is home to the communities.

I have been in this area for 25 years, and when I arrived, the only merged districts were Unatego, Bainbridge-Guilford and Gilboa-Conesville. Through my work with this newspaper, I was aware of the sometimes-bitter struggles that existed whenever a merger proposal surfaced and went to voters.

In the 1980s, the state Education Department was encouraging small districts with declining enrollments to merge into larger ones. It was seen as a way to consolidate services while at the same time provide students with more special ed and academic options.

It was also the start of a drive for tougher student academic standards, known back then as the Regents Action Plan, which resulted from the ``A Nation at Risk'' assault, in 1983, on the mediocrity of American public education.

The state offered to pay for school-merger studies and also to bolster aid once a merger occurred.

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Cary Brunswick

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