If there’s one word that strikes fear into local school districts, it’s “merger.”
(That, or “cuts.” But that’s a subject for another editorial.)
The reasons for this fear vary from the practical (How will my kid get to school?) to the profound (Will our community lose its identity along with its school?).
We saw some of these issues emerge when Center Street Elementary closed in Oneonta, and elementary school students in the Unatego school district were split up by grade level between two buildings. Area residents struggled with what these changes meant, not only to them personally, but to the character of their communities.
So we understand there may be fear, anger and plenty of questions in evidence in the communities of Schenevus and Worcester, where a recent “Planning to Plan” workshop was held to ever-so-gently float the idea of merging the two districts.
The goal of the workshop was to develop a rank-ordered list of priorities that will be used by the districts as they prepare a grant application, Schenevus Superintendent Thomas Jennings told The Daily Star.
“It will help give us a sense of what’s important to the communities and what the concerns are so residents will have a clear understanding of the issues,” if it gets to a vote, he said.
There will be those who will kick and scream against the idea of a merger. They will point out that their school (whichever one it is) should be preserved; that it offers something special that no other school could; that the school’s mascot, colors and sports teams are so dear that the loss of them would deal a psychic blow to the community.
And these are by no means trivial concerns. But the question for schools such as Schenevus and Worcester is increasingly becoming, not if the schools will merge, but rather, when — and how.
Declining enrollments and pressure on school budgets give this issue an urgency it previously lacked. Whether an all-out merger, or varying forms of shared services, it seems evident that change is inevitable.
With state funding declining for the last three years, Worcester Superintendent William Diamond said, the community can no longer support the necessary programs under the current situation.
“We’ve been cutting both instructional and non-instructional positions,” he said, and “we believe we are offering the academic program we need. To offer anything less would be unacceptable.”
While we do not relish the prospect of a merger, we do commend the leaders of these two districts for facing these problems head-on, and engaging the community in the process. They can be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward change, or they can accomplish it on their own terms. We think the former is clearly the better choice.