Districts shelve merger plan

Chatham, New Leb prefer sharing instead of combining

CHATHAM–The Chatham and New Lebanon school districts will not conduct a merger study this year. Instead, they will do a financial study to see whether it would be advantageous to taxpayers for the districts even to consider merging in the future.

At a joint meeting Wednesday, February 8 in the Chatham Elementary School cafeteria, the school boards also decided to focus on finding services they can share.

The two boards asked their respective superintendents to talk to Questar III BOCES officials about creating a merger study system for all the schools in the region. Questar III presented information to the Chatham school board a few weeks ago about sharing business and human resources services at the regional level.

Chatham school board President John Wapner said he was against considering a merger now, but he is interested what will result from a recently completed study of a possible merger of the Ichabod Crane and Schodack districts.

Based on enrollment figures, Mr. Wapner said that if New Lebanon and Chatham were to merge in the next few years, the combined district would have graduating classes equal in size to the classes that graduate from Chatham now. But if Chatham merged with Ichabod Crane, “then you have numbers that are more critical to me.”

The Ichabod Crane and Schodack Merger Committee just finished its study, which will now go to the state for review and then back to the boards for a vote. The last step would be for voters in both districts to determine whether to accept the proposal. Even under the most optimistic timeline, the public would not have a chance to vote on a merger until this summer.

The state is offering financial aid incentives to school districts that merge, but it’s not clear that those increased payments would offset the property tax rate increases that could affect some taxpayers as the result of two districts merging.

For now, the New Lebanon and Chatham boards plan to work together on ways the two districts can become more efficient by working together. “At the end of the calendar year we should have a sense of direction,” said Chatham Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo about planning with New Lebanon.

New Lebanon Superintendent Karen McGraw thought Questar III would be interested in using its services to help districts reduce costs.

Both superintendents and a smaller group of board members will met again in March.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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