With a no-growth budget that would still raise taxes by 4.5 percent, voters in the Oppenheim-Ephratah school district might want to reconsider their December decision to reject a proposed merger with the St. Johnsville school district.
It may be easier with three of the school board’s seven seats up for grabs in the May 15 election and another vacancy expected right after the election. But not necessarily so: The current board, after initially denying voters the right to even weigh in on the subject last fall, reversed itself; then voters, who’d approved the idea of combining with the smaller St. Johnsville district in a November straw poll, reversed themselves, 458-400.
Perhaps the budget the school board recently approved for a May 15 vote will persuade them to change their minds yet again: It would consume more than half of the district’s $859,000 surplus and still exceed the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap by more than double, requiring a 60 percent yes vote.
Merging with St. Johnsville has never been a better idea. According to an exhaustive study on the matter, the combined districts would save $250,000 by consolidating administrative staffs and eliminating duplicate programs. An extra six teachers could be hired, allowing for the creation of academic enrichment and remedial programs. Best of all, the merger would qualify the combined district for a 40 percent increase in state aid for each of the first five years. The incentive would then decline 4 percent per year for the next nine years.
A revote on the merger would not be necessary in St. Johnsville, which overwhelming approved the plan in December, and could not be held in any event until this December. But with only 36 signatures required to put in on the ballot and more time for the community to really learn about the plan this time, it seems well worth a try.