FORT EDWARD — About $1.2 million could be saved in teacher salary and benefits costs if the Fort Edward and South Glens Falls school districts were to merge.
In addition, said Alan Pole, a consultant from Castallo & Silky, he believes no teacher layoffs would be necessary.
“I’d be shocked if anybody currently working in the two districts loses a job,” he said at the Jan. 11 meeting of the merger study advisory committee.
The meeting was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The leaders of both districts are committed to providing every opportunity for the Fort Edward employees to be hired by South Glens Falls. However, he said, there is no guarantee.
“In the event that they are not going to be able to provide employment for everyone, the boards want to use retirements and attrition to accomplish the goal of keeping everyone employed that they possibly can,” he said.
Pole presented a chart showing that there is an average of 12 people who leave the combined teaching staff Fort Edward and South Glens Falls every year.
School districts are very labor-intensive organizations, with about 70% to 75% of the budget going to salary and benefits.
Fort Edward employees who move over to South Glens Falls would be placed on the South Glens Falls salary schedule in accordance with their years of service. The accrued sick time would carry over. The former Fort Edward employees would be under the insurance plan of South Glens Falls.
Pole said the average teacher salary in Fort Edward is nearly $70,718, and for South Glens Falls, it is $77,627. The average of the two districts is $76,643.
In addition, benefits costs, including health insurance and retirement, are on average about 45% of the salary, which is an additional $34,000. That makes the total cost per teacher about $111,000.
Moving all the Fort Edward teachers over to South Glens Falls would cost another $280,000, according to Pole. He said there would have to be some sort of negotiations with the Fort Edward employees to accommodate them.
At a previous meeting, the consultants said enrollment projections show that the combined district could reduce two elementary teachers and seven secondary positions.
That would result in a savings of about $1.198 million.
Amanda Durkee, a Fort Edward parent and wife of a Fort Edward teacher, pointed out that there was a lot of attrition in 2019-2020 because of a defeated budget — including five elementary teachers who were laid off.
Durkee also asked whether South Glens Falls had any teachers on the preferred eligibility list. Teachers who are laid off have the right to be called back to their job if a vacancy in their subject area exists in the next seven years.
South Glens Falls Superintendent of Schools Kristine Orr said her district had no one on the list.
South Glens Falls teachers earn more
The contracts of both districts are fairly similar, according to Pole. One unusual clause in the Fort Edward contract is the teachers took a $500 pay cut for the 2020-2021 year because of the district’s fiscal challenges.
Pole showed that the starting salary for Fort Edward teachers with a bachelor’s degree is $44,685 — slightly higher than the $43,698 that first-year teachers are making at South Glens Falls. However, the gap in pay widens as teachers gain experience.
Teachers in New York are required to obtain a master’s degree in order to be permanently certified. Some people choose to earn it right away before entering the job market. The starting salary for a teacher with a master’s degree at Fort Edward is $46,844 — just a little lower than the $46,997 for South Glens Falls.
Fort Edward’s top step is during a teachers’ 20th year, in which a teacher earns $84,364. By contrast, the salary schedule for South Glens Falls has 25 steps and tops out at a salary of $91,898.
Pole said the support staff salaries in Fort Edward are slightly higher, but there is not much difference.
Fort Edward leader under contract
As for the administration, Pole said there would not be many duplicated positions in a merged district. The Fort Edward building would remain open as an elementary building.
However, the district would not need another superintendent. Fort Edward Superintendent of Schools Dan Ward is under contract through June 30, 2025.
Pole said the board is obligated to honor Ward’s contract and it is possible South Glens Falls would find another position for him — or he would leave on his own.
Some members of the committee had some concerns whether Fort Edward teachers would be hired.
Orr said her district anticipates how many people they expect to retire each year. The faculty has an insurance incentive for teachers to retire when they first become eligible. They have to give notice by Feb. 1.
“For the next three years, we could have six to eight people that could retire,” she said.
Durkee said the Fort Edward community is concerned about losing jobs. She said the “statement of assurances” that both districts agreed upon are just promises.
“They’re not legally binding and they look nice. They sound good,” she said.
However, districts are facing unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. Districts could face mass exits of staff looking to get out as quickly as they are able to, or there may be people who keep working as long as they are able to because they need the money.
Orr said that even though the statements are not legally binding, the boards of education are elected by the people and are held accountable.
Pole acknowledged that it is an important issue.
“It’s about people’s lives. It’s about people’s careers. It’s about people’s jobs and their families. It’s a very personal part of the study,” he said.
The committee will meet again on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. The topic will be the finances of the two districts and it will be the next-to-last meeting. The final meeting on April 12 will be to review the draft report.