Montgomery County

Oppenheim-Ephratah eyes paying tuition to other schools

The Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District Board of Education will consider paying other school

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The Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District Board of Education will consider paying other school districts to educate its students as a cost-saving option should residents vote next week against a proposed merger with the St. Johnsville Central School District.

The O-E board discussed the option during a budget work session Thursday night. It directed district Superintendent Daniel Russom to approach the St. Johnsville, Johnstown and Dolgeville school districts about accepting O-E students under a tuition agreement. The district would likely send students to the school district closest to their homes. The earliest it could start such an arrangement would be in two years.

The lag is because Russom urged the board to first consider hiring a consultant to study the ramifications on the district of farming out its students before voting ad hoc to do so.

The merger vote is scheduled for Tuesday. Polls will open from noon to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available at the district clerk’s office.

If O-E residents approve the merger, the new district would begin operation July 1, 2013. It would be eligible for $14 million in enhanced aid over the next 14 years.

Only residents of the O-E district will vote on the merger. In a referendum last year, St. Johnsville residents backed the merger, 461-79, but O-E voters rejected it, 458-400. If they reject the merger Tuesday, the district cannot revisit it again.

O-E currently sends about 80 students to the Dolgeville Central School District for free and Russom said the Greater Johnstown School District has indicated a willingness to accept O-E students for approximately $1,500 each, which is the same tuition Johnstown charges to accept secondary students from the Wheelerville Union Free School District.

Board member Glen Blanchard proposed the tuition idea in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper. Board President Benedict Conte brought it up for discussion at Thursday’s work session.

“This has to be an option if the merger goes down,” Conte said. “I seriously think you should tuition out the pre-K to 12 students.”

He added he did not think this was in the best interest of the students and the district but that he wanted residents to be aware the option was available as a way to deal with the district’s declining enrollment and increasing costs.

Board member Susanne Sammons said the tuition option would change the “whole outlook” of the district’s budget. “If it is what the people want, fine,” she said of the tuition proposal, which would require a referendum vote for approval.

Sending just the high school students to other districts would result in the elimination of at least 23 teachers from the high school and a guidance counselor. The district would also lose its high school band and its sports program.

Both scenarios mentioned Thursday — shipping out all O-E students or just the high schoolers — were basically speculation, without discussion of details or ramifications.

Board members did not calculate the savings to the district under a tuition arrangement, but Russom said the cost to educate a student is about $14,000, compared with a tuition cost of $1,500 per student, based on the Johnstown rate. He said a school district accepting O-E students also could charge a higher rate.

The district has to close a $200,000 gap in its proposed $8.6 million 2013 budget.

The budget is 3.4 percent higher than the current year’s $8.4 million budget. Russom did not include any change in the proposed tax levy, leaving that decision to the Board of Education.

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