Worcester Central School District officials announced Thursday the district will no longer consider accepting students from Schenevus Central School District in a tuition agreement.
“From the beginning, the Worcester Central School Board of Education would only receive tuitioned students if it was in the best interest of our entire school community,” Worcester Superintendent Tim Gonzalez wrote in a Jan. 16 letter addressed to the Worcester community. “Unfortunately, due to the current law and under the advisement of our legal counsel, the Worcester Central School Board has decided that tuitioning creates too many potential risks to our staff and we cannot go forward.”
In December 2019, the Worcester Central School District began to “carefully and thoughtfully examine” its academic programming, athletics, extracurricular activities, school resources, class sizes, facility space and personnel as it considered accepting Schenevus students in grades 7 through 12 to help alleviate the district’s fiscal problems, Gonzalez said.
Some “favorable possibilities” emerged, he continued, “but there remains too many unknown variables to be adequately prepared for the 2020-2021 school year,” noting in particular some “negative effects on personnel.”
“It is important to note that the personnel issues are in no way the fault of either district but in the current education laws that govern tuitioning of students between districts,” Gonzalez wrote.
Under a tuition agreement, state law mandates that teachers whose positions are eliminated from the sending district (Schenevus) be placed on a preferred eligibility list for hire at the receiving district — Worcester — for seven years, Gonzalez said.
“Our district must hire from that list of candidates when any similar teaching position, as previously held, becomes open or created,” Gonzalez wrote. “The law also says at the time of appointment, Worcester Central School must grant those teachers with the same tenure status, years of service, salary, and sick leave they have earned from Schenevus Central School.”
Worcester will likely have to immediately hire additional teachers to accommodate the incoming students from Schenevus, Gonzalez said, which could become problematic if Schenevus teachers have more seniority than their Worcester counterparts.
The pay scales at the two districts also differ greatly, Gonzalez said.
“Therefore, the newly hired teachers, paid at their current salaries and in accordance to the law, would be paid at a higher salary than our current Worcester teachers with the same years of experience.”
“While it is an unfortunate finding, we remain sensitive to the needs of Schenevus Central School and will assist them as much as possible in other areas of collaboration,” the letter concluded.
Schenevus Superintendent Theresa Carlin said she was “very shocked” to receive the letter the same day it was made public to the Worcester community.
“I had no idea they were going to get to this point,” she said.
Last month, Schenevus and Worcester were awarded a $25,000 grant from the New York State Department of State to help fund a study to determine the feasibility of merging the two districts.
Merging with Worcester remains a possibility, Carlin said, but Schenevus will now consider tuitioning its students to Milford or Charlotte Valley.
The Schenevus and Worcester boards of education will hold a 6:30 p.m. joint meeting Wednesday, Jan. 22 at Worcester Central School to hear a presentation from the consulting firm hired to conduct the merger study.
A previously scheduled March 5 presentation on a tuition agreement between the two districts will likely be canceled, Carlin said.
“This is nobody’s fault,” she said. “Everybody’s trying to do what’s best for their district. We want the community to keep in mind we’re investigating everything and trying really hard to make it work for everyone.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.