A 20-member committee appointed to navigate the potential merging of Schenevus and Worcester central school districts wrapped up its work this week, producing tentative findings from a months-long feasibility study.
The findings must be certified by the state Education Department before they are formally presented to the boards of education, according to Schenevus Superintendent Theresa Carlin. Members from both school boards will meet Jan. 5 with the merger study consultants, Castallo & Silky, and then begin sharing the study findings with the community.
Both boards will vote on whether to proceed with the merger in late May or early June, Carlin said. If approved, the matter will go to a straw vote in both communities in September and a final vote later in the year.
“From June until September, it’s going to be about getting this information out to the communities,” Carlin said. “We hope everyone is able to separate emotion from fact.”
If the merger is voted down by any group at any point, the entire project will be called off, Carlin said. If approved, Schenevus Central School District would dissolve and Worcester would annex its population and property.
“Pretty much everything we learned through the study points to it being a really good idea,” she said.
“The districts are very similar,” Worcester Superintendent Tim Gonzalez agreed. “The study seemed to show that’s something that hasn’t changed in decades.”
School boards from both districts compiled a list of shared values, which are nonbinding, but considered “conversations in good faith,” Carlin said.
Among the top shared priorities are retaining all staff and including representation from both districts on a new, potentially expanded school board.
The merger study laid to rest some of the significant rumors circulating both communities in recent years, Carlin said, including one that Schenevus carries more debt than Worcester — the opposite of which was found to be true.
“This is not about judging which school district is in a better position and why,” Carlin said.
Both districts have seen declining enrollment and have similarly sized current student populations, with a variance of fewer than 20, Carlin said.
“The good news is we’ll have the same offerings for students and opportunities for many more course offerings at all levels,” Carlin said.
Classes would remain small — the study used 22 students as a maximum number — and both buildings would be needed and used, Carlin said. Worcester would likely house grades 7 through 12 and Schenevus would hold Pre-K through 6, with the latter possibly keeping its name on the building.
“It’s important to Schenevus to have something that retains that identity through this process,” Carlin said.
The study showed that both districts would realize significant cost savings without having to eliminate any programs or staff positions beyond attrition, and transport times and costs across a combined district would be minimal, according to Carlin.
Property taxes could potentially be lowered with the use of merger incentive funds from the state.
“Every reason why you shouldn’t merge in other districts didn’t show up here,” Carlin said. “Nothing is definite, but all the way around, it looks like a good idea.”
“We’re excited to see how it plays out,” Gonzalez said
Visit mscsw.org for more information and updates about the merger process.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.