Document wrong about effects of Northville-Mayfield merger, officials say

JOHNSTOWN – Local education officials said they are concerned a misleading, anonymous document could affect how people in the Northville Central School District vote on a proposed merger with Mayfield Central School District.

Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel recently sent out a news release about the document.

“I rarely get involved in this sort of issue within component school districts. I believe the taxpayers have the right to make up their own minds and determine the destiny of their own school district,” Michel said in the release. “However, when I saw how thoroughly misleading this document was and how people in Northville might go to the polls swayed by an obviously biased point of view, I felt morally obligated to speak out.”

A straw vote on the proposed merger of the Northville and Mayfield school districts is scheduled to take place Tuesday. If voters approve the merger in the straw vote, a binding vote would still need to be held.

However, if voters shoot down the merger next Tuesday, discussions about the idea would cease between the school districts.

Northville Board of Education President James Beirlein said the document has been circulating for some time. However, he said, its origin and author are unknown.

In the release, Michel took aim at a number of points in the document.

Michel said the document presents a “foundational false assumption that after you merge two school districts, you still have two school districts.

“That is untrue. When school districts are merged, the separate districts become one new district. The tax base and the original districts’ resources are combined into one. This allows for substantial savings and a realignment of the tax base,” Michel said in the release.

The document claims the Mayfield school district will lose $33 million in tax revenue when “equalizing” the tax rates.

Michel said the merged district would see a realignment of tax rates, not equalization.

“Mayfield and Northville central school districts will cease to exist as taxing entities after the merger. You cannot equalize the taxes in districts that no longer exist,” Michel said in the release. “What the author fails to understand is that the tax base in the new district will be larger, so the cost is spread over a greater number of taxpayers, thus lowering tax rates. I believe this will be welcomed by every taxpayer in the new district.”

Michel said the claim of separate costs per-pupil is incorrect. Costs are not calculated by simply dividing the tax levy by the enrollment, which Michel called misleading.

The document claims the proposed school merger would increase debt by up to $22 million, the release said.

Beirlein said the merged district will not cause additional debt. The document, he said, overestimated the costs of contracts with the teachers.

Beirlein said the document assumes all the teachers would receive the highest pay raise possible, totalling to $8 million over 15 years.

However, Beirlein said you can’t make the assumption all the costs are moving up. Beirlein said over the next three years, 15 percent of the district’s employees will be eligible for retirement. Beirlein also noted negotiations on contracts will occur.

The document claims the total tax levy for the new merged district will equal the total combined tax levy of the two separate districts for a total of $12 million, the release said.

“However, a single new district with one budget results in a different tax levy. We project the new levy of the combined district to be $10.1 million, a savings for taxpayers of [$2.2 million],” Michel said in the release.

“This anonymous document makes claims that are patently untrue and misleading, and are a disservice to the Northville community,” Michel said in the release. “They should make up their own minds when they go to vote, but they should decide based on accurate information.”

Northville residents already rejected an advisory referendum, or straw vote, on the merger in September.

Voters in Mayfield passed the referendum, but the support of residents in both districts was required to bring the merger proposal forward to a binding vote.

However, due to petitions from the community, Northville scheduled another straw vote on the merger for Tuesday.