Fort Edward school board President Tom Roche said recently in a discussion about school mergers that the future of the village is tied to the future of the school, and we agree that good schools are part of prosperous communities.
But in small communities like Fort Edward, the best way to have a good school and a prosperous community may be through a merger. As enrollments decline and officials struggle to cover the costs of even a basic curriculum, the convenience of having a school right in the village can be outweighed by the benefits of sending students to a larger school with more resources.
With a merger, Fort Edward could have the best of both worlds. Not only are Hudson Falls and Fort Edward neighbors, it’s difficult to recall where exactly you cross from one village into the other. The communities blend into each other, which means the Fort Edward district could merge with the Hudson Falls district without losing the sense of having its own school. At the same time, Fort Edward students would gain tremendously in terms of resources.
Having more students makes a big difference in what schools can offer — more advanced courses, more AP courses, more electives such as languages and art and music. Having more students means a district can offer more sports programs and field more competitive teams.
Having more students because of a merger is especially beneficial, because the state offers generous incentives to districts that merge. Incentive Operating Aid would begin with a 40% increase to the two districts’ combined operating aid, then taper down over 15 years. Plus, the state would increase its reimbursement rate for building aid to 98% during a merger’s first 10 years.
A merger with Hudson Falls would mean about an extra $44 million in operating aid and a merger with South Glens Falls — another alternative for Fort Edward — would mean about $49.5 million extra.
The prospect of these increases comes as Fort Edward school is struggling with its budget because of large reductions in the assessments of the old GE plant and the former GE dewatering site. This sort of drop in tax collection from large properties would be much more easily absorbed by a larger district.
Yes, schools are important to communities, and that is why we urge Fort Edward school officials and residents to keep an open mind as a merger is explored. If the educational experience can be greatly improved without much inconvenience — as appears possible in Fort Edward’s case — then a merger is the way to go.