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Information About Herkimer Co. School Merger

The following document was sent home to parents in Herkimer, Frankfort-Schuyler, Ilion and Mohawk regarding details about the schools merging.

What is an advisory referendum?
The advisory referendum, often referred to as a straw vote, is a public vote that authorizes the Board of Education to request the New York State Commissioner of Education to authorize a final public vote to merge the school districts that have voter approval in this vote. If one community of the four school districts rejects the advisory referendum, the proposed four school merger ends without going forward to a final referendum.

If the advisory referendum passes in all four school districts,
the Commissioner of Education establishes the framework for a
final referendum including the referendum’s wording, date for the
vote, and polling sites. This vote would take place on Wednesday,
February 29, 2012.

What opportunities exist in a four school merger?
According to the school districts, first is the opportunity for students. Students would benefit from richer programming with more electives, activities, and student services.

Students would have the advantage of a deeper pool of teachers
to offer more classes and develop new ideas. Second is efficiency. More teachers will enable a stronger curriculum to prepare our students for the global economy of the 21st century.

The merger study shows that if we combine our students, staff, buildings, and reserve funds into one district, we would provide our students with better educational opportunities than we could separately. We would retain our elementary school in Mohawk and combine the instructional and non-instructional staffs from each district to form 5th-6th, 7th-8th, and 9th-12th buildings.

Central administration and the business offices would be combined
and housed in Jarvis, a long with BOCES services and an alternative education program. Combining resources will result
in more savings, according to the schools.

Third is additional funding. New York State incentive aide will provide almost $72,769,731 in extra aid over the next 14 years if we merge. Wisely managed, that extra money can offer more to our students, can result in savings for the future, and can help to stabilize the tax levy. Mohawk residents will see their school taxes reduced based on the value of their property as much as $322.00.

History says the state will provide the incentive aid for the schools that choose to merge or centralize. The state budget every year includes money to explore mergers/ centralizations and to help fund the process.

Why a four school district merger?
The Board of Education realized after developing this school year’s budget that our school district would soon run out of the money it needs to continue serving our children as we have in the past. As
projected, based on state aid projections as of December 2011, for the 2012-2013 budget we face an estimated funding gap of approximately $700,000. Depending on how we choose to use our $532,000 reserves, we would still face a tax levy between 12 and 18 percent. We have already cut staff and programs, shared services where possible, and looked for ways to be more cost efficient.

A higher tax levy is not the answer. With the legislative requirement of a 2% Tax Levy Cap, an increase in a tax levy between 12 and 18 percent would have to be passed by district voters with a yes vote of 60% of all votes.

Won’t the State come through and give us more money?
In the past, whenever education costs rose faster than the local taxpayers’ ability to pay, New York State simply gave more money in state aid. The schools' Boards of Education, in turn, would use the additional state aid money to reduce the tax levy impact of our taxpayers. With the economic downturn of the state beginning in 2008,
Mohawk School District has seen over $1 million dollars in state
aid reductions.

The school districts say they realize that the state is not going to help us! Our assemblymen and senators have made it clear that the state no longer has the funds or the political will to increase basic school
aid. We cannot expect the state to ride in on a white horse to save small school districts by giving us more money. New York State has no current plans to close schools or to force mergers, but they also have no plans to save struggling districts.

A four district school merger is not a simple choice. It requires students, staff, and residents to give up something they know and care about for the unknown. Equally important is to understand that merger does not fix the long-term problem of how New York State funds its schools. Consolidating four schools into one asks the question, “Can we provide a better quality education together than we can separately?” The study clearly outlines that the new district could offer broader programs and expanded opportunities without increasing the financial burden on the local property tax payers.

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