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The Telegram
  • What's next for Hamilton, Morrisville-Eaton school districts?

  • A merger of the Hamilton Central and Morrisville-Eaton school districts was a “no brainer” for one Morrisville-Eaton parent.
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    • LOOKING BACK
      * In December 2010, representatives from four Madison County school districts – Hamilton, Madison, Morrisville-Eaton and Stockbridge Valley – met with an educational consult...
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      LOOKING BACK
      * In December 2010, representatives from four Madison County school districts – Hamilton, Madison, Morrisville-Eaton and Stockbridge Valley – met with an educational consultant for an informal session on what mergers might mean for the schools.
      * Morrisville-Eaton Superintendent Michael Drahos said the school officials learned Morrisville and Hamilton were compatible for a merge because of tax rates and Stockbridge and Madison were compatible for the same reason.
      * Stockbridge and Madison explored a merger and conducted a feasibility study but it did not go to public vote.
      * The Central Valley merger began with four districts: Herkimer, Frankfort-Schuyler, Ilion and Mohawk. Voters in Frankfort-Schuyler and Herkimer, as in Hamilton, rejected the merger in different votes in 2012.
  • A merger of the Hamilton Central and Morrisville-Eaton school districts was a "no brainer" for one Morrisville-Eaton parent.
    But Hamilton voters didn't share Janette Boyce's opinion.
    The advisory vote earlier this month on a district-wide merger between the Madison County schools was soundly defeated in Hamilton, ending a three-year journey during which the districts sought options to manage cuts in state aid due to declining enrollment dating back to 2008.
    Boyce and her husband, James, left Andrews Elementary School Dec. 10 in favor of the merger. Janette voted 'yes' while James waited in the car with their daughters, Katherine and Emily, who are Morrisville-Eaton students. James Boyce, a 1999 Morrisville-Eaton graduate, said he shared his wife's view on the benefits of the merger.
    "I think they'll get an adequate education," Janette Boyce said. "I think that the enrichment and the after-school activities, the things that Hamilton had to offer would've shaped them and given them more with clubs and activities they're not going to get now."
    So, what's next for Hamilton and Morrisville-Eaton – two longtime athletic rival schools whose students have merged in certain sports – but whose adult voters could not agree on district unification?
    "Well, now we have to look for alternative solutions and we're not sure where or what that will be," Hamilton Central Superintendent Diana Bowers said.
    Morrisville-Eaton voters approved the Dec. 10 referendum 339-163. Hamilton voters disagreed in a 720-249 vote against. Both districts had to approve the vote for it to advance to a February statutory vote that would've been overseen by the state education department.
    "I'm a little disappointed, for sure," Boyce said.
    Student enrichment was covered in a reorganization feasibility study prepared on behalf of the districts and released in June. In the event of a merger, the study recommended a $20,000 increase each for co-curricular resources such as music and drama and to implement other enrichment programs above the $488,037 the schools separately budgeted in 2011-12.
    In 2012-13, Hamilton's operating budget was approximately $11.8 million and Morrisville-Eaton's was $14.8 million. An estimated budget of a newly organized district in 2014-2015 is just over $28 million, according to the study's findings. Without reorganization, the districts' combined budget is $68,054 lower.
    The Hamilton and Morrisville-Eaton districts are the most recent example of Central New York schools exploring a merger to manage a reduction of expenditures. Earlier this year, Ilion and Mohawk voters finalized a vote to merge, and the Oppenheim-Epratah and St. Johnsville districts did the same in 2011 and 2012.
    "The possibility of a merger was never seen as a panacea," Morrisville-Eaton Superintendent Michael Drahos wrote in an email. "It was an option that had the potential to significantly increase state aid. However, the uncertainty of what would happen in a newly merged district was always in the back of our minds."
    Page 2 of 2 - Bowers and Drahos said they anticipate additional budget cuts for next year, but it is too early to identify specific areas that might be cut.
    "We will need to find areas to cut costs which have the least negative impact on children," Drahos wrote.
    Hamilton resident Ferdinand von Muench, a Colgate University lecturer, said one of the keys to the district's long-term future is to find additional ways to work with other districts. Bowers said earlier this year the district has joined with Madison and Stockbridge Valley for special education services and transportation costs to BOCES and will continue to do so as necessary,
    "I think it gives us more flexibility to do more things with more districts," von Muench said. "That will allow us in the future to cooperate with multiple districts and adjust shared services according to all of the districts involved."
    Von Muench, the father of two daughters, one of whom graduated from Hamilton in June and the other a high school freshman, said the district also has aligned itself with Colgate and Hamilton Community Hospital to join the Village of Hamilton's effort to establish its own natural gas distribution system. The village approved the measure and it's anticipated the system will be available for use in 2014, according to the village website.
    Bowers said the estimated cost of savings to the district is $40,000-50,000 annually.
    "It's the equivalent of a teacher's salary and those are the type of solutions we try to look for," Bowers said.
    Von Muench said he was not convinced a merger would solve Hamilton's financial burdens and he was interested in maintaining a school in his community.
    "This was not about not wanting Morrisville, specifically, and I think that's important," he said. "And I think it's been perceived differently because it was a 'no' vote but it was one vote. You couldn't pull a lever for 'we like Morrisville.' It was about the strengths of the local school and community."
    Follow @OD_Delaney on Twitter or call her at 792-4963.
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