By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
BROADALBIN -- In an effort to stem the tide of financial uncertainty plaguing school district's throughout the state, officials at the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District recently reached out to neighboring Galway with an invitation to explore a possible merger of the two districts.
In a letter dated Dec. 11, B-P Board of Education President Ed Szumowski and Vice President Paul Chizek cited mounting fiscal concerns, yearly staff cuts, "unreliable" state funding and mounting mandate expenses as "concerns" shared by both districts.
"In a constant search for ways to simultaneously stabilize our district and provide our students with a superior education, we often touch upon the subject of mergers and consolidation." Szumowski and Chizek wrote. "This has been a priority for the Governor. Changes are coming to our public schools, whether we like it or not, and those changes are likely to include regionalization."
"It's the considered opinion of our superintendent and board that we are best served by acting to consolidate on our own terms before the state compels such actions," the letter continues.
"We'd like to explore with you the possibilities of joining our two districts into one."
Little more than a week later, however, Galway officials politely turned down the offer.
In a letter to the Galway community, Galway Central School District Board of Education President Cheryl Smith cited several reasons for her board's decision, including its belief that mergers "have not proven to provide long-term fiscal savings."
Smith also cited the fact that the Galway district is in the midst of a superintendent search and that it's currently conducting "a multi-year analysis of the district's finances" as additional reasons for the board's decision not to enter into discussions with Broadalbin-Perth.
"While the Galway Board of Education certainly recognizes the concerns raised by the Broadalbin Board about the long-term stability of education and finance, and their desire to provide additional options to the students they serve, merger is not an avenue that the Galway Board of Education wishes to explore at this time."
In her letter, Smith identified the process through which Broadalbin-Perth officials suggested the two districts merge as "centralization" -- "a process that would legally dissolve both districts, and in its place, create a new district."
A merged district would have resulted in approximately $36 million in state incentive aid over the next 14 years.
Smith also wrote that any future discussions regarding possible changes to the Galway district would begin in that community and said that the board of education plans to continue addressing ongoing financial concerns by proactively advocating for "a predictable and equitable state aid formula."
On Monday, Szumowski said merger discussions have been up for discussion for a number of years, but recently took on a more central role as the result of long-term planning discussions.
"Since before I was on the board there have been conversations about consolidating school districts in this area and everywhere in the state, really," Szumowski said. "So, the conversation came back up. It's not the first time it's been talked about."
"So we, having had a conversation with the board of education and the superintendent, we said, 'well, let's ask them if they want to talk and see if they're interested in exploring the possibilities," he added.
Szumowski said he was not entirely surprised by Galway's rejection of the proposal.
"I didn't know what would happen. They didn't think it was in their best interest. So, OK," Szumowski said. "It wasn't a great big surprise because we didn't have a great big expectation."
As for the district's future plans, Szumowski said the board will remain open to all possibilities, including merger with another area district.
Because state education department regulations prohibit the merger of a central school district with a common school or a city school district, however, B-P's options are limited in that regard to Galway and, theoretically, Mayfield Central School District.
"We don't have any plans right now. There's nothing that's off the table," Szumowski said. "We're always interested in what's best for our tax payers and what's best for the students and if, after doing some analysis, we find that a merger with a school like Mayfield would be beneficial, then we'll ask them if they want to talk."
"Very little is out of the question," he added.
Mayfield Central School Board of Education President Ernest Clapper said he was unsure how his district would react to the possibility of consolidation discussions with Broadalbin-Perth, but he also did not entirely reject the notion outright.
Clapper also made clear, however, that they had not received any such overture.
"We'd have to find out from our constituents how people feel about it," said Clapper. "I know the board has discussed it in a preliminary way and we haven't really come to any conclusion there, so I can't really speak for the board at this point other than to say that we're looking for the best thing for our kids, for sure, but it's just we're not sure exactly how to head yet.
Mayfield officials had been exploring a possible merger with neighboring Northville Central School District and voters in Mayfield overwhelming approved doing so in September's referendum. Voters in Northville, however, rejected the measure. State law allows for a second vote, but the districts must wait one year.
While he remained open to possibilities, Clapper said his district had not entirely given up hope that a merger agreement could still be worked out with Northville.
"I think our position right now is we're kind of waiting to see what happens with Northville," Clapper said. "I think the board feels that that's just a natural merger for us. It creates a very nice size district and our voters were very much in favor of it."
"We were very disappointed that it didn't go through in Northville," he added. "So, I think we're going to give that a little bit of time just to see what happens there. We haven't really made any other determinations as to where to go."
In December, voters in the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District approved a merger with St. Johnsville after having initially rejected the measure in a 2011 referendum.
Similarly, Szumowski said he had not entirely discounted the possibility of a change in circumstances or opinions.
"We were just trying to start a conversation and it didn't work out," Szumowski said. "It doesn't mean that it never will work out. Who knows? Next year, they may want to talk. We'll see."
Smith did not return a phone call for comment.