Residents of the Northville Central School District solidly rejected a proposal to merge with the neighboring Mayfield school district Tuesday, ending the process for at least a year.
The vote was 457-256 against consolidation in unofficial results released by the Northville school district. Residents of the Mayfield district, who also voted on the consolidation question Tuesday, favored the initiative 529-206.
Both districts had to approve the measure for the process to move to a binding vote in October. With Northville opposed, the two school districts will remain independent.
A consolidated district, had it been approved, would have taken effect July 1, 2013. In addition, the new district would have received nearly $19 million in additional aid from the state over the next 14 years. Residents can petition the New York education commissioner for another merger vote a year and one day from Tuesday’s date.
Northville school Superintendent Kathy Dougherty was not surprised by the defeat. “It was clear from the beginning,” she said. She said a fear of the unknown and a tight knit community culture in Northville contributed to the defeat.
Dougherty nonetheless defended the decision to seek consolidation with Mayfield, a larger district located about 15 miles away. “We didn’t have much of a choice. We have to keep taxes down and consolidation is the answer,” she said. “Nobody wants this to happen, but finances dictate our lives.”
Mayfield school Superintendent Paul Williamsen said of the vote results: “These are extremely challenging times in education. The public has spoken, and it is clear our two communities do not want a merger. If our districts are to continue as separate entities, however, it will be critical in the coming years that we have the public’s support.”
Dougherty will retire from the district in October, so she will not be there to deal with repercussions of the merger defeat. Nor will she be there to assist the school board in developing its 2013-14 budget. Northville is looking at a $1 million deficit and Mayfield an $840,000 deficit going into the 2013-14 school year, which begins July 1.
Both districts 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 hope for additional state aid, and absent that, 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.
Residents of the two districts expressed a wide variety of reasons for how they voted.
Dominick Locorriere of Northville voted “yes” because he wanted to see strong academic programs put in place for his children. “The merger would be good for the students and the schools,” he said.
Locorriere currently sends his 9-year-old child to a Mayfield school because it offers more programs than Northville schools. He said with the merger proposal defeated, he will continue to send that child and a second child, now 2, to Mayfield schools in coming years.
Bonnie Colson of Northville voted against the merger, saying she saw no advantages in combining the districts. “They will raise taxes no matter what we do,” she said. Colson also said she wants Northville to retain its own identity. “By voting ‘no,’ it keeps the local school local and keeps the kids here,” she said.
Sandra Poulin of Northville said uncertainty triggered her “no” vote on the merger. “There are too many unanswered questions,” she said. They include the composition of the board of education that would oversee the new district; the amount of money required to bring Northville teachers up to parity with their Mayfield counterparts; and the advantages to Northville in regards both to academic and sports programs through the consolidation.
“I don’t see much academic advantage,” she said, adding that “taxes will go up every year with or without the merger.”
Colson said she had three children go through Northville schools and that she remains a big supporter of the district.
Kathy Verkleir of Mayfield voted “no” on the merger out of concern for the length of time children would have had to spend on buses traveling to and from their school buildings. In a merged district, each community would have had a pre-K elementary school in an existing building. Students in grades 6-8 would have had to attend middle school at the current Northville School. Students in grades 9-12 would have had to attend high school at the current Mayfield Junior-Senior High School.
“Transportation is a big issues. I can’t see children riding an hour on the bus,” she said.
Verkleir also said Mayfield has spent millions of dollars on its schools, and asked, “Why let that all go to s---?”
Fred Olbrych of Mayfield said he voted “yes” because a merger would have been good for both districts. He has three children in the Mayfield district. “It is the wave of the future. We have to consolidate,” he said.
He said the merger likely was defeated based on “misconceptions out there.” He said “if you read the information, it was a no-brainer.”
Jack Albertin of Mayfield voted “yes” for the merger. He said a combined district would have offered more academic programming, which would help them succeed in life. “The kids are barely graduating with a high school diploma now,” he said.
He said the additional state aid garnered by the merger would have been a boon: “It would give us our programs back,” he said.
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.
Northville and Mayfield were the latest school districts in the area to consider consolidation. Last year, voters in the Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District defeated a merger proposition with the St. Johnsville Central School District. St. Johnsville residents approved the proposal.