FORT EDWARD — Fort Edward school officials are looking for a dance partner to do a merger study and have their eye on Hudson Falls.
Fort Edward Superintendent Daniel Ward said the district wants to use the services of Syracuse-based educational consulting firm Castallo & Silky for a study of a potential merger with another district.
“In order for them to do the study, they have to have two school districts that have entered into an agreement,” he said.
Fort Edward is the only district that has committed, Ward said. The districts seeking a merger must be contiguous. Hudson Falls surrounds about 90 percent of Fort Edward.
Hudson Falls officials have not said they would consider a study at this point, Ward said.
“They are probably looking at the cost and whether it’s an appropriate cost for the school district now,” he said.
The study could cost about $5,000 per district, according to Ward. It is not eligible for state aid, but he said he did reach out to local legislators to ask if there would be funding available.
Hudson Falls Superintendent Linda Goewey did not return a message left for comment on Thursday.
Fort Edward is facing some long-term fiscal challenges with the reduced assessment from the dewatering plant.
Because of the completion of the General Electric dredging project, the assessment for the two parcels that made up the dewatering plant has been cut almost in half, from $72.6 million to about $37.5 million. That has resulted in a loss of about $950,000 in school district tax revenue.
In December, consultant Rick Timbs presented a report to the school board, saying the district is facing a big gap between future expenses and revenues. Assuming a 2 percent increase in the tax levy for the next four years, there would be a budget gap at the end of four years of just over $1 million. Closing that gap would require bigger tax levy increases, which would exceed the tax cap.
Timbs had recommended the district consider sharing services with another district, tuitioning some students out or an outright merger. Other recommendations included tracking expenses and revenues closely and examining cost reductions that would not affect students.
Annexing the Fort Edward district into Hudson Falls would require a lengthy process. After completion of a study and evidence of local support, the state education commissioner would issue an order to call for a referendum.
A majority of voters in each district would have to approve of the merger. If it fails in one or more districts, the question cannot be presented for another year. If the question fails at the polls a second time, or is not called within two years, then the commissioner’s original merger order is voided, according to state Education Law.
Hudson Falls school officials have considered merging with Fort Edward from time to time, but Fort Edward has not liked the suggestion. There was a big push in the early 1990s to look at school consolidation from then-Gov. Mario Cuomo.
School district mergers have not been successful in this area. A proposal by Abraham Wing School to merge with the Glens Falls City School District was rejected by more than three-quarters of voters in 2013. Among the concerns were that the merger would have increased property taxes for the Abraham Wing residents by around 18 percent, while decreasing them for residents in the city school district. Abraham Wing taxpayers did not want to lose their own school.
That was the third time Abe Wing voters rejected a merger after voting it down in 1993 and again in the 1980s.
A merger between Fort Ann and Hudson Falls was overwhelmingly rejected in 2000.