Montgomery County

Canajoharie, Fort Plain school districts to consider merger

Fort Plain Central School District Superintendent Douglas Burton’s decision to retire at the end of

Fort Plain Central School District Superintendent Douglas Burton’s decision to retire at the end of this school year has prompted the Board of Education to consider a merger with the Canajoharie Central School District.

The two boards of education met Tuesday to discuss the potential merger, which would net the new district roughly $33 million in additional one-time state aid and potentially create annual budget savings, as well.

Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel, who conducted the meeting, noted both districts are in good financial shape, but that could change in the future.

“Because of the tax cap, districts around the state are suffering,” he said. “These two districts are OK right now, but it is basically like they are bleeding a slow death because they can’t bring in any more money.”

Michel said the first step in the process is for both boards to agree to a merger study.

“The study takes about six months and is done by a private consultant. They interview community members and assess the finances of the districts,” he said, “then the consultant reports to the boards on the viability of the merger.”

Michel told the boards of the pros and cons of merging the districts and said he wants to be “as honest as possible with both sides.”

“Obviously, the goal is to provide the kids with the best possible programs,” he said. “But with a merger, jobs will be cut because the districts will be sharing services and they won’t need as much staff.”

Michel said the boards should consider how a merger would affect each district and not focus solely on how much it would save taxpayers.

“I have seen districts save that money, and they don’t spend it the right way,” he said. “Sometimes merging works, but they should weigh what it would mean for the students in each district.”

If the boards vote to merge and voters approve it, Michel would become interim superintendent of the newly formed district.

“I have to stay neutral in this because I would become the head of the district if it is formed,” he said.

In the late 1990s, the Fort Plain district made multiple attempts at merging with neighboring districts, including St. Johnsville and Canajoharie. This time around, Burton, who is in favor of the “theory of merging districts,” is not involved in the discussions.

“You are able to give the kids more programs and improve the education they are getting, obviously that should always be our goal,” said Burton, who has been superintendent for 16 years. “I have not been involved in this process because I am retiring, and it doesn’t make sense, but yes, the idea of merging districts, I am a proponent of.”

Canajoharie Board of Education President Jami Stevens said the board will not rush any decision and will take its time to review the situation.

“The merger certainly could work, but we want to make sure we are making the right decision for the taxpayers and the students in both districts,” Stevens said.

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