Schools move ahead on shared study


By Jim Poole

Cobleskill-Richmondville, Middleburgh, Schoharie and three other school districts are looking at a wide-ranging study to investigate shared services or possibly even consolidation.
Jefferson, Berne-Knox and Duanesburg are also in the mix, and all six schools are seeking a $100,000 state grant to hire a consultant for the study.
As costs increase and resources remain level or shrink, school districts want to maintain services for students without paying more.
"The idea is that we want to give our students more and relieve taxpayers' burden at the same time. That's the thrust," said Middleburgh Superintendent Michele Weaver, whose district is the lead agency for the grant application.
A similar idea for a shared study was floated in the late fall, with only C-R, Middleburgh and Schoharie involved. Now, with six districts participating, there may be more opportunities, said C-R Superintendent Lynn Macan.
Although the topics of school merger or consolidation may make some people nervous, the study doesn't necessarily lead to those options.
A shared transportation facility, shared classes or a regional high school might be possibilities, Ms. Macan said.
"The study may recommend that two schools pursue merger or four look at expanded sharing of transportation or five look at a regional high school," added Ms. Weaver.
Schoharie Superintendent Brian Sherman was intrigued by the idea of a regional high school.
"The Schoharie Valley seems ideal for an experiment in this direction," he said. "I can certainly see it opening up new possibilities and opportunities for our high school students."
An independent consultant would do the study.
"It's much more objective having someone from the outside come in," Ms. Macan said. "Someone else might see more possibilities than we do, up close to it.
"I'd be thrilled to have different ideas and hear what's working or what's being considered in other districts."
"It would confirm what we see as possibilities that are questionable and what would not work when examined by experts," Mr. Sherman added.
The study is especially timely now because of the property damage--and loss of tax base--from Irene and Lee, Ms. Weaver said.
"With Irene and Lee, we're in a different place than we were before," she said. "There will be long-term impacts we can't even fathom now."
Mr. Sherman agreed.
"I believe there will be a different landscape for our region in the next four to seven years," Mr. Sherman said. "The study will give us a hint if not a push in the right direction."
Some of the districts may seem distant from one another, but opportunities could still exist. C-R is already investigating shared classes with Jefferson, Ms. Macan said.
Jefferson participated in a shared study with Stamford last year and has signed on for the new study.
"Like us, Jefferson thinks 'Why eliminate any possibilities?' " Ms. Macan said.
Rather than make strong recommendations, the study will take the position of "the data suggest. . ." she added.
The Jefferson-Stamford study bears this out. One possibility it raises would have pre-kindergarten through sixth grade at Jefferson and seventh through 12th grade at Stamford.
Other options include sharing administration, cafeteria management and a transportation supervisor, among many others.
The upcoming study will seek a wide range of information, not only about the school districts but also about the communities. Public forums for input would also be part of the study.
While school officials may be looking forward to the study, it's unlikely to come quickly.
The schools won't hear whether they've received the grant until August. Then, the study itself probably wouldn't be finished until next April.
But Ms. Weaver pointed out that simpler possibilities--such as sharing transportation, for instance--could come sooner.
"There will be a lot of communication between the schools and the consultant, so we may be able to work on something before the study's done," Ms. Weaver said.
"The more complicated proposals will come after the study. They'll take time."