Study: Merger means ICC tax hike

Districts many steps away from decision to combine

KINDERHOOK–The Ichabod Crane School Board met this week to review the data collected by the merger study team looking into the feasibility of a merger with Schodack Central Schools. What the team found was a 33% difference in the current property tax rate between the two districts, which would mean lower taxes for Schodack residents and higher taxes for ICC residents if the districts merge.

The study team, made up of three former superintendents who conduct merger studies for districts in the state, worked with community members from both districts to create a “road map” for a merged district with a budget of $57 million.

As the team members reviewed the proposed merged district they talked about busing, building needs, staffing and programming, but it was the finances that took up much of the sparsely attended meeting at the ICC High School auditorium.

“That’s a significant nut when looking at reorganization,” said study team member Paul Seversky of the tax rate. According to their study, the owner of a home with a true value of $150,000 in the current ICC district could expect a property tax bill from the school district of $488 more following a merger. A taxpayer in Schodack with a home of the same value would see his or her school tax bill reduced by $231.

Currently Schodack property owners pay more in taxes to support their district since that district includes parts of two towns and doesn’t have has many taxable properties as the ICC District. Ichabod Crane covers parts of seven towns, including a small section of Schodack.

What the study team members don’t know is how the state’s 2% cap on property tax increases would affect a merged district, though they do know the combined district would receive a total of $34 million in incentive aid from the state over 14 years. The team did stress that a merged district would need to reduce spending because the additional state aid would eventually end.

The team also emphasized that its job is not make recommendations, it is just presenting the data. Members said that the information could be used to look at sharing services rather than merging.

The study’s data and conclusions should remain useful for two years. “It’s a planning tool, it’s a sharing tool,” said study team member Doug Exley.

The study team was paid for by a grant awarded to both districts and the report has already been sent to state Education Department for review. But like the team, the state will take no position on whether the districts should proceed with a merger.

Mr. Seversky, who conducted a demographic study for the district several years ago, pointed out that both districts have declining enrollment. The budget for a merged district in 5 to 8 years might be smaller than the projected $57 million.

Sam Shevat, the third member of the study team, said that there have been no school mergers since 2004, but he pointed out that in the year 1910 there were 10,000 school districts in the state and now there about 700.

ICC school board President Regina Rose pointed out after the team’s presentation that her taxes are go up every year and they will be closer to the merged district amount soon. She also said that both districts have had to cut programs and will have to make more cuts to survive.

The study team pointed out in the report that state aid for the separate school districts will most likely stay flat or decline in coming years, leading to more cuts.

At the end of the study report, which is available at the district office and online at www.ichabodcrane.org, the team summed up the major items for consideration by both communities, which include “educational program offerings for the students and long-term program viability as two separate school districts as compared to the long-term viability of one reorganized school district” and “property tax estimated outlook as two separate school districts long-term as compared to the estimated property tax outlook for one reorganized school districts.”

To merge, both ICC and Schodack school boards would have to accept the report before moving on to a straw vote in the communities vote and then a second, binding election that would require the approval of a majority of voters in both districts before a merger could take place.

Neither board has yet made any formal decision about the report. The next regular ICC board meeting is Tuesday June 5 at 7 p.m. in the Middle School Library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

 

 

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