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In Fulton County, school merger process full of twists

Mayfield at heart of two discussions

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
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— Mayfield Central School District Superintendent Paul Williamsen described the process of merging two school districts as similar to dating.

As with any relationship, for a merger to work two districts have to be close, with similar goals and willing to make compromises.

If the metaphor holds, Williamsen’s district is part of a love triangle.

Last September, the Mayfield and Northville central school districts attempted a merger. It may have been a perfect match, but since Mayfield was left at the proverbial altar with a resounding 457-256 vote against merging from Northville residents, the snubbed district is still looking for a companion.

“I really thought [Mayfield-Northville] would have been a good marriage,” he said, “but I respect the fact that their residents voted it down.”

Broadalbin-Perth, an attractive district just down the road, is interested in merging. There’s just one problem: Mayfield wants to give Northville a second chance at the failed relationship.

“We started this dance with Northville and we want to finish with them,” Williamsen said.

At a joint meeting last week, Mayfield’s Board of Education asked Northville to reconsider a merger. According to Northville interim Superintendent Debra Lynker, the Northville school board is tempted.

“As we look at making a budget for next year, look at having to raise taxes, we have to look at ways to save money,” she said. “A merger is just one of the things we’re considering.”

And there’s incentive. The state offers extra funding to merging districts based on size and other factors. The recently merged Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District will receive $14 million in extra aid over the next 15 years.

Williamsen says, and Cornell University figures confirm, that Mayfield and Northville would have received $18 million over 15 years had they done the same. That’s a significant figure considering Northville enrolls roughly 500 students and has a budget of less than $10 million and Mayfield teaches nearly 1,000 students with a budget of roughly $17 million.

“It’s a lot of money,” Williamsen said. “Why do you think we wanted to do this?”

But Broadalbin-Perth actually has more to offer. It’s nearly twice Mayfield’s size, and would yield a merger bonus of $38 million over the next 14 years.

“To put that in perspective,” said Michele Kelley, a spokeswoman for Broadalbin-Perth, “our whole budget this year is less than $30 million. Of course we’re interested in a merger.”

By law, there are only two districts Broadalbin-Perth can merge with: Galway and Mayfield. When state aid started drying up a few years ago, Broadalbin-Perth sent a letter to Galway officials to propose merger talks and “didn’t even get a date,” as Kelley put it.

By the time B-P considered talking to Mayfield, Mayfield was already in talks with Northville.

“At this point we have to respect the process they’re in and not put any pressure on them,” she said, adding that her district will have to bide its time as programs run out of funding.

Meanwhile, Northville won’t be rushed.

“We have to do what’s best for our district and not be pressured by outside factors,” Lynker said.

Williamsen could not say how long his district will wait for a response from Northville before talking to Broadalbin-Perth, but said the school is still in desperate need of money.

“There’s no prize for second place,” he said. “We don’t get extra state money because we tried.”

 
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