KINDERHOOK – A large committee of citizens from the Ichabod Crane and Schodack school districts gathered for the first time last week to consider data that could help determine whether and to what extent the two districts can consolidate.
The 30-person committee, 15 from each district, met Thursday May 12, with representatives from SES Study Team, the consulting group that gathered the data. The districts received funding for the research from a state Department of State grant that is supposed to help the districts look into consolidation, though the data could also be used to plan for sharing services.
“This is not a grant to study sharing… but data is data,” said Dr. Paul Seversky, a former superintendent who now runs SES.
Prior to working on this project, Dr. Seversky conducted an enrollment projection study for the Ichabod Crane district that showed a steadily shrinking number of students in the years ahead.
All three members of SES Study Team were superintendents of school districts in the state. SES members Doug Exley and Sam Shevat served in districts that consolidated with other districts. Dr. Seversky said that his district conducted a consolidation survey but chose not to pursue that option.
The state Education Department offers incentives for districts to consolidate, promising increased building aid. Districts that combine can see a 40% increase in aid for 15 years. And the state has seen a long-term trend over many decades toward consolidation and centralization. “At one time there were over 10,000 school districts in New York State, now there are 700,” Mr. Shevat said.
The SES Study Team consultants stressed they were not making any recommendation about consolidation, and that the decision was not the committee’s to make. SES will present the information to the school boards, whose members will decide whether to place the question on a ballot determined by the voters of the two districts. “It’s a lengthy process of public approval,” said Mr. Shevat, who also said that the process can be stopped at any point along the way.
“There is nothing set in stone,” Dr. Seversky said.
Board members and superintendents met last month with SES to discuss the issues they wanted to the study to address.
The community committee is made up of school district residents representing different segments of the community. There are parents, business owners and real estate representatives along with two district employees from each district.
The committee members looked at 2005-09 census data at the Thursday night’s meeting. They will also hear presentations from school administrators, and look at transportation and staffing contracts at upcoming meetings. All the information from the meetings will be available on the district websites, www.ichabodcrane.org and www.schodack.k12.ny.us.
Committee members voiced their concerns about consolidation at this first meeting. They asked about assessments, housing issues in the two districts, staffing cuts and the cultures of the two different communities. The SES consultants said they did not plan to answer all the specific questions that night but through the process many of them would be answered.
Looking at the census data, Dr. Seversky said the two districts were very similar in populations, income levels and housing stock, which attracts people to the school community. But both districts have already seen enrollment decreases and are looking at lower numbers of students in years to come. If they combine, the whole district would have 3,071 students to start, Dr. Seversky said, but in five years that enrollment would drop to 2,700.
The consultants emphasized several times at the meeting that they are funded to look at a merger of the two districts and to present that information to the board. The data they collect will be given to the administrations at the end of the study this fall. If the districts decide not to consolidate, they can use the data for whatever further studies they wish to conduct.
The next meeting of the committee will be Tuesday, May 24 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Schodack High School Library in Castleton. The committee will meet again at the Ichabod Crane Central School campus Wednesday, June 8.