FORT EDWARD — South Glens Falls Superintendent Kristine Orr has indicated her support for a merger between her school district and Fort Edward because of its benefit on the finances of both districts.
A merged district would receive about $49 million in incentive aid over the next 14 years. It would also allow the district to receive $6 million to pay down capital project debt. South Glens Falls officials are planning a capital project to focus on the district’s aging middle school.
In addition, Orr said a merged district would receive 95% state aid reimbursement on capital projects.
“When we talk about fiscal responsibility for South Glens Falls and for Fort Edward and when we talk about for our students what that 95% (aid) in a capital project can do, I have to be supportive of a merger like this,” she said at a meeting last week of the merger study advisory committee.
The committee met virtually on March 3 to provide some final thoughts before consultants Castallo and Silky write their draft report, which will be presented at the April 12 meeting.
Orr made her comments in response to a question about how South Glens Falls residents feel about a merger. She said she has not heard many residents asking about the study.
South Glens Falls’ enrollment has stayed relatively flat in recent years, but now it, too, is losing population. A merger would help keep the district’s enrollment up and expand the tax base to create opportunities for all students, she said.
The tax savings were stated as a positive. A house assessed at $100,000 in the Fort Edward district would see a decrease of $929 in taxes, according to the consultant. A house in the South Glens Falls district assessed for that amount would see a drop of $107.
Among some of the other benefits of a merger expressed by committee members were that Fort Edward students would have access to more extracurricular activities and sports.
Some of the concerns expressed by Fort Edward parents included longer bus rides, increased class sizes and loss of a school building.
Fort Edward science teacher Nelson Chase said the numbers showing that 55% of Fort Edward’s classes at the high school have fewer than 10 students could be skewed by subjects such as Regents preparatory classes or independent art study.
“I know walking around Fort Edward secondary school that there are not classes typically with 10 students,” he said.
Tim Dawkins, assistant superintendent for instruction for South Glens Falls, said Fort Edward students are used to walking to school and events. They may not want to try out for teams if they need transportation to the high school for practices and games, he said.
Fort Edward residents expressed concern about having a vacant building in the middle of the village, if the school were to close. The building could be vandalized and become a nuisance.
A “statement of assurances” between the two districts at the start of the merger study said South Glens Falls would commit to keeping the Fort Edward building open as an elementary school for at least five years.
Resident Lisa Carpenter said Fort Edward residents believe the community would suffer from a merger. People bought houses in Fort Edward because of the small school.
“It just feels like there is not a choice on what is being forced on us,” she said.
Orr said the school board of the merged district would be accountable to voters and it would be in nobody’s interest if the district were to renege on its promise. The South Glens Falls district would be responsible for the building.
Consultant Deb Ayers laid out the timeline for the rest of the process.
After the April 12 meeting in which the draft report is presented, the consultants will send the report to the state Education Department for review.
A joint meeting of the Fort Edward and South Glens Falls school boards will be held in June to hear a presentation of the study. After a few months of digesting the information through various forums, the boards will vote separately on Oct. 6 if they want to move forward. If they vote yes, advisory referendums would be scheduled for Nov. 17 in each district.
“If either district votes no, it’s done. That’s it. If they both vote yes, then it goes through to the final referendum,” Ayers said.
That final vote would take place on Feb. 9, 2022.
“If the vote is passed in both districts, the reorganized district official begins on July 1 of 2022,” she said. “If the vote is not approved in either of the districts, then all discussion ceases at that point.”