Northville voters approved a second school merger attempt in a non-binding straw vote Tuesday night.
Public sentiment was 307-199 in favor of revisiting the proposed Mayfield merger.
“I think this is a win win for both of our schools,” said Northville Interim Superintendent Debra Lynker. “We’re getting to the point where we either needed to cut programs or raise taxes.”
The merger debate started last year but ended when Northville residents voted no in a similar straw vote in September.
At the time, Mayfield residents approved the pursuit of a merger, and their vote still stands. Now, with Northville’s support, an extensive 200-page merger study conducted last year will be updated before a binding vote in both districts.
Many voters exiting the polls Tuesday afternoon said they voted in favor of the proposal more out of curiosity than any particular conviction.
“I want to see the new numbers,” said Larry Smith. “It’s a big enough issue I think we need to look at it seriously.”
Larry came with his wife Jackie. They’ve lived in the village for 30 years and put three kids through the Northville school district. Over the steady sounds of cast ballots echoing through the gym, they discussed pros and cons of a merger.
The main advantage of a merger is the promised $18 million in state aid incentives that would be funneled into a new district over the next 15 years. Larry said that “carrot dangled by the state” looks pretty good to a lot of village residents worried about district funding.
“If they have to cut electives like music and sports,” he said, “that can be the death knell of a school.”
Even while voting to move forward with a potential merger Tuesday, the Smiths weren’t sure where they would land on a binding vote.
“It depends on the numbers,” he said. “We might not need to merge, but I suspect they’ll say it’s either neuter the district or join up with Mayfield.”
Retired Northville shop teacher Guy Poulan echoed Smith’s ideas.
“You have to understand, I’ve spent 46 years of my life in this school,” he said. “I went here. I taught here. My grandkids are going here know.”
He’s passionate about what’s best for his school but wasn’t pleased with the numbers suggested by the last merger study.
“I think this will be much better for Mayfield than it is for us,” he said, expressing concerns over current tax levy differences.
Even so, he voted to move forward with the process and update the study. Last year’s numbers, he said, showed Mayfield residents getting a tax break on the back of Northville. Unless the numbers change, “there’s no way I’d vote for a binding merger,” he said.
Marilyn Tirkap was one of the 199 to vote against the study, citing worries about tax levy increases and diminished opportunities for athletes.
In less than a year, local opinion seems to have shifted dramatically. In September, Tirkap would have been one of 457 to oppose the merger.
“There’s been a strong grass-roots movement to give this merger a second look,” Lynker said, explaining the proposal’s strong support.
Over the next months, both school boards will meet with the company responsible for the original study to draft a more up-to-date version. As of Monday night, a binding vote was not scheduled.