Fulton County

2 Fulton County school districts to merge fall sports

Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School is merging its fall sports program with that of the St. Johnsville

Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School is merging its fall sports program with that of the St. Johnsville Central School District.

The Oppenheim-Ephrathan Board of Education on Thursday approved the merger, expected to save the district $15,000 to $17,000 this year and allow its students to participate in boys and girls modified and varsity soccer programs.

Oppenheim-Ephratah Superintendent Dan Russom said without the merger, his district would not have had a fall sports program. “There are not enough students for the varsity and modified programs,” he said.

An informational meeting for students in both districts interested in participating in fall sports will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the St. Johnsville High School auditorium.

Oppenheim-Ephratah has budgeted $50,000 for varsity sports this year, but will use only two-thirds of the amount under the merger, Russom said. Under the agreement, Oppenheim-Ephratah students will wear St. Johnsville uniforms and play under the St. Johnsville team name. St. Johnsville will also appoint its own coaches for the teams.

“Our board agreed to that,” Russom said. “This is the most important thing. St. Johnsville is picking up the cost. The St. Johnsville board recognized we did not pass a budget [for the 2012-13 school year] and that we are on contingency budget,” he said.

Oppenheim-Ephratah residents defeated the district’s budget proposal in May and a revised budget proposal in June. The adopted budget for 2012-13 is approximately $8.4 million, with no increase in the tax levy.

Russom said the sports merger has critics, who attended Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. “But the board unanimously approved it,” he said.

He said he hopes the sports merger is a precursor to a full merger of the two districts, both of which are struggling financially and in danger of cutting academic programs and services to the core. “My hope is that this will lead to a merger beyond sports for the districts,” he said.

Oppenheim-Ephratah voters last year defeated a merger proposition with St. Johnsville while St. Johnsville residents approved the proposal. Up until the defeat, the districts had shared sports programs and divided the cost. “We were scheduled to combine for winter sports with St. Johnsville,” Russom said. Last spring, Oppenheim-Ephratah combined with the Dolgeville school districts on softball, baseball and track.

Russom said he expects residents of Oppenheim-Ephrathan to seek another merger vote with St. Johnsville later this year. The earliest a resident can petition the commissioner of the state Department of Education for the vote is Dec. 9. If the commissioner grants the request, only residents of Oppenheim-Ephratah would vote. If the merger is approved, a combined school district would come into being July 1, 2013. A combined district would be eligible for enhanced state aid for years.

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