School merger plan earns poor marks from some

NORTHVILLE – Residents of the Northville Central School District expressed concerns over the proposed merger with the Mayfield Central School District at Thursday’s informational meeting.

With more than 30 parents and residents in the NCS auditorium, Northville Board of Education President Sheldon Ginter said the public has an important decision to make Jan. 7 in a binding vote on the merger proposal.

“We all need to work very hard to understand this as much as we can,” Ginter said. “What the implications are, what impact this will have on education, as well as the impact on the finances.”

Mayfield residents approved the merger proposal during a public vote in September 2012, but Northville residents voted against it.

In?June, however, residents in Northville voted 307-199 in a straw poll to allow a proposal to merge with the Mayfield school district to move forward. Voters in Northville had expressed a variety of concerns, including possibly seeing their school taxes rise and having the community lose its identity.

At the meeting Thursday, a presentation, led by Northville Interim Superintendent Debra Lynker, was based on a feasibility study done for the districts.

According to the presentation, after several years of cuts to staff and programs, the district, if merged with Mayfield, could bring back or add programs. Incentive aid also will be given to the school districts.

The study also said, when merged, taxes may increase in Northville and drop in Mayfield.

According to the presentation, a home with a true value of $100,000 carries a school property tax bill of $1,664 in Mayfield and $1,118 in Northville for this school year. If the districts were to merge and follow the suggestions of the feasibility study, the estimated school tax bill would be $1,245 for that property.

Members of the public expressed concern over various elements of the plan.

Joellyn Stortecky of Northville asked the board if school tax increases would be covered by incentive aid and building aid, what would happen to residents’ state income taxes.

“If the state just keeps giving us all this money, it has to come from somewhere, which is all of us,” Stortecky said.

Lynker said she did not have control over state aid funds, but she advised Stortecky to get in touch with state legislators.

Stortecky said she is very “pro-community” and feels the district could find a way to keep going without the merger.

“They have done it for how many years?” Stortecky asked. “They need to stop focusing on getting money from the state and start focusing on generating it ourselves.”

If the public approves the merger, the combined districts will vote on a new school board for the district, selecting terms of three, four or five years for five, seven or nine members. The initial terms would be staggered, Lynker said.

Dean Shepard of Northville wanted to know if Northville representatives would be assured a slot on the new Board of Education. Shepard said, with Northville students making up one-third of the district, representatives from Northville should be promised one-third of the seats on the board.

“Because of the change of population, you could easily not have a single Northville or town of Northampton resident on the board,” Shepard said. “It is our children, our tax money, so we deserve a say.”

Lynker and Ginter both said while a position was not promised to a Northville or Northampton resident, the district will have candidates from across the new district.

Lynker said during the recent merger of the school districts in Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville, residents in Oppenheim shared a similar concern.

“They ended up with the majority of the board members,” Lynker said.

Lynker said she will be in her office every Wednesday to 9:30 p.m. to speak with parents or residents who want to discuss the merger. Another informational meeting will be scheduled for November, as well.

The updated merger study is posted for public view on the districts’ websites.