When voters in the Abraham Wing school district go to the polls Wednesday to vote on a merger with Glens Falls City School District, they will be asked to do more than just weigh the facts. They will be asked to read the tea leaves.
The facts are pretty straightforward and would lead most voters to reject the merger:
* Both school districts are rated equally for the quality of education they provide.
* Both have stable enrollments, similar class sizes and good school facilities.
* Both have strong community support, are in good financial condition and spend similar amounts of money per student in their budgets.
A successful merger would yield more than $27 million in state incentive aid over the next 14 years, but here is the game-changer: Abe Wing taxes would go up significantly even if all of the state windfall was used to offset taxes.
By voting for a merger, Abe Wing residents are signing up for at least an 18 percent tax hike if the entire $27 million state incentive is used to offset the escalation in Abe Wing’s taxes. If only 33 percent was used to offset Abe Wing’s taxes (as the consultants recommend), tax bills could rise as much as $400 a year (24 percent) on a home valued about $100,000.
The decision appears to be a no-brainer, with the merger dead on arrival.
But like most things in life, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The sad reality for Abe Wing residents is no matter what they do, taxes will probably shoot up significantly in the coming years.
Approximately 25 percent of the Abe Wing budget goes toward paying tuition for their elementary school students after they graduate to junior high and high school in the city school system. The city district has always charged less than the maximum for tuition — a good neighbor discount — but pressed by its own financial problems, the city school board has made it clear those days are over if the merger is defeated.
The Glens Falls School District also filed a lawsuit last year, challenging the assessment of the Finch Paper property that lies in both districts.
That property is assessed at $25.6 million for the Abe Wing school district and $7.2 million for the city district. Abe Wing officials believe it is assessed in their favor because the more expensive machinery in the plant is in the Abe Wing district while office space is located in the city school district.
With the vote imminent, Judge David Krogmann asked both sides to delay the lawsuit until afterward since a successful merger would make the challenge moot.
So Abe Wing voters have to read the tea leaves before they vote.
If the merger is defeated and the Abe Wing district loses a significant amount of the Finch assessment in a lawsuit, taxpayers could be asked to make up another $300,000 in revenue.
What is impossible to know is whether Abe Wing residents could end up paying more taxes by going it alone than continuing with a merger.
Either way, Abe Wing residents are in a tough spot.
We suggest looking at the big picture before going to the polls. Abe Wing officials have taken great pride in operating a school that is not only good for their students, but fiscally sound. They also feel the city school district has not always made the best fiscal decisions. We found some truth in that.
But these neighbors are in the education business together. No matter how well Abe Wing educates its students in elementary school, it eventually turns them over to the city district, so it is in Abe Wing’s interest for the city to continue quality education programs.
Ultimately, by maintaining their own efficient school district, Abe Wing may undermine the city school district, especially if the city attempts to extract more and more revenue.
We wonder whether Abe Wing students are being short-changed on the back end of their education, after they leave their own district.
The more the city struggles, the more staff and programs it will have to cut, and the more Abe Wing students will be hurt when they move on to junior high and high school.
Perhaps, it is time to come together.
The reality is, Abe Wing could suffer a one-two punch to its budget between the assessment challenge and the tuition increase that might be the equal of the merger tax hike. No one knows for sure.
It pains us to urge Abe Wing voters to vote for a merger that will take a big bite out of their wallets — we empathize and wouldn’t want to be in their position — but delaying the merger might end up costing Abe Wing taxpayers even more, while also hurting the quality of education their students receive.
That’s how we are reading the tea leaves.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Robert Sledd.