Residents of two school districts will take to the polls today to decide whether to move forward with the planning process for a potential merger.
The nonbinding “straw vote” affects the Northville and Mayfield school districts. Polls are open from noon to 8 p.m. at the Mayfield High School gym and the Northville High School gym.
At stake is the future of both districts, each of which is facing financial pressures due to declining state aid and growing costs, said Paul Williamsen, Mayfield schools superintendent.
“I think this is a very important vote. I think this is going to provide direction to Mayfield and Northville school districts for the future,” he said.
A “yes” vote moves the merger process to a binding vote next month. If that second vote also is affirmative, a new district would come into being in July 2013. At that time, a new board of education would be voted in and have the power to negotiate contracts with staff, hire a new superintendent and establish a new budget.
Williamsen said a “yes” vote will “provide us with direction as far as maintaining programs and improving what we have.” He said a “no” vote means “we will have to make changes” and that the gap elimination adjustment will remain and that the state “will be taking more money from us.” The GEA takes back state aid from school districts to help close the state’s own budget deficit, school officials said.
“There will be large changes,” he said. “I have already laid off 31 people in three years. I do not have any more people to lay off, and we need people to do our jobs.”
Northville Superintendent Kathy Dougherty said the boards of education of both districts have “tried to give the best information we can based on the best information” and that residents have to make the final decision.
The school boards have been reviewing the option of consolidation since 2010 and used a state grant and in-kind funds totaling $35,000 to have SES Study Group develop the feasibility study. They are pursing consolidation as a matter of economics: Mayfield is looking at an $840,000 deficit going into the 2012-13 school year, while Northville’s deficit is closer to $1 million. They have nearly used up their reserve funds to close gaps in their current year budgets.
To close next year’s gaps, the districts would have to reduce programs and services and lay off staff, all while working within the state-mandated tax cap. Williamsen said some of the programs he would specifically target to close a budget gap include full-day kindergarten and arts and music programs.
School officials said a merged district would receive $18 million in enhanced state aid over the next 14 years. They said approximately $8.3 million of this amount would be used to reduce the tax levy through the year 2025. Approximately $4 million would go toward repayment of bond debt; $517,000 for a transportation plan for the combined district; and $6.1 million for a reserve fund.
Dougherty said these numbers are not cast in stone, in that the new board could use more of the enhanced state aid to adjust the tax levy during any school year.
Northville school board President Jim Beirlein said the combined district in its first year would have a tax rate of $10.94 per $1,000 of true value, so a home assessed at $100,000 in the new district would pay $1,024 in property taxes in 2013-2014. This would represent a $500 reduction for Mayfield residents and a $70 reduction for Northville residents, based on their 2012-2013 tax bills.
Included in this figure is the projected cost of $300,000 necessary to bring staff salaries in the Northville district up to par with those in the Mayfield district during the first year of the merger, said Dougherty.
Teachers in Mayfield make more money than those in Northville. According to district figures, the starting salary for a teacher in Northville is $35,028 with a bachelor’s degree and $37,155 with a master’s degree. Teachers top out at step 23 with a salary of $74,400.
In Mayfield, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $40,000. Those with a master’s earn $40,000 plus $1,200 per credit toward their degree. Teachers top out at $80,000 at step 28.
Dougherty said should the new board be unable to negotiate a contract in the first year, then the projected tax rate of $10.94 could be different, as existing contracts would remain in place until a new agreement is reached.
As part of rumor control, Beirlein issued a statement seeking to lay out “the real facts.” These include:
-- There is no plan to shut down the Northville building and move all students to Mayfield.
-- Tax rates will not balloon the second year, because the new district will be subject to the 2 percent tax levy cap.
-- There would be little or no need for additional staff reductions since there has been the equivalent of over 55 full-time positions cut in both districts during the last three years.
-- Current retirees would not lose their health insurance. State law provides that all retiree benefits would continue in a new district.
-- There will be more sports and more teams available for students to participate in.
Some of the potential disadvantages of the merger, district officials said, include:
-- Too many administrators.
-- Mayfield’s voters having a voting bloc, as that district has twice the population of Northville.
-- Higher transportation costs.
-- Fear of losing hometown school identity.