The proposed merger of the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school districts, subject of numerous opinions, straw polls and votes by both school districts over the past 13 months, is back — at least for voters in the Oppenheim-Ephratah district, who rejected it last December. One can only hope that, for both the students’ sake and for taxpayers,’ they’ll get it right this time.
The Dec. 11 vote is binding. If O-E voters approve the plan, the districts will merge next July and they’ll be eligible for a huge shot of extra state aid each year for the next 14. It would be the kind of shot — $14 million total — that would obviate the need in both tiny districts for additional deep spending cuts, stiff tax hikes and layoffs at budget time. If they reject it, the plan will be dead, for good.
This spring, O-E voters twice rejected budget proposals, leaving the board no choice but to adopt a no-growth contingency budget. As a story in Thursday’s Gazette noted, there aren’t many options going forward for 2013, and Superintendent Dan Russom has proposed a budget with a $738,000 hole in it. Though the district does have a $3.9 million capital reserve fund that could be used for operations, it would then have to borrow for any of $4.5 million it needs for capital projects.
The districts have shown they’re compatible when it comes to sports: This fall, they merged their athletic extracurricular programs, saving O-E $15,000 to $17,000.
O-E voters liked the merger plan enough last November to approve it in a straw poll, but then turned it down in the formal vote, 458-400. The school board also has a mixed record on the issue, which is strongly supported by the schools’ administrators and by the St. Johnsville district.
It’s time for O-E voters to join them.