Carla Kolbe - Northville Board of Education President Jim Beirlein led the school merger community forum held at Mayfield High School Monday night, explaining the reasons for the proposed merger.
Carla Kolbe - Northville Superintendent Kathy Dougherty explains aspects of the proposed school merger between Northville and Mayfield Central School at Monday night’s community forum held at Mayfield High School.
Carla Kolbe - Mayfield Superintendent Paul Williamsen addresses community members.
By Carla Kolbe
MAYFIELD — Community members appear undecided on the question of school merger following Monday’s community forum hosted by the Mayfield Central School District.
Few residents were on hand for the discussion, and even fewer for the school tour preceding the forum, but those present were passionate about the future of the Northville and Mayfield schools.
“This vote is more important to me than the upcoming presidential election because it directly affects my children and everyday life,” said Mayfield resident Deanna Frasier.
Jennifer Akey, who attends all Northville school board meetings and is an active PTO member and parent said it was an “embarrassment” that more residents didn’t show up to learn more about the merger.
Most present at Monday’s forum said they are ready to cast their vote either way. Northville resident and parent Jenny Crosby said, “I was 100 percent for the merger, but now I’m toddling on the fence again.”
During the Northville school board meeting June 14, members unanimously passed a resolution that removes what was known as “Option 1” from consideration in the district’s merger talks with Mayfield Central School.
The Mayfield board passed the same resolution during their meeting Tuesday night.
According to the merger study completed by the districts’ consultants, the SES Study Team, Option 1 would have called for an initial increase in school taxes for Northville residents. Under Option 2, the only merger road map now under consideration in Northville, there would likely be no tax increase in either community in the first year of a merged school district
“The simple truth is, although Option 1 was very attractive, our communities likely wouldn’t have supported it,” said Northville Superintendent Kathy Dougherty. “The road map outlined by Option 2 would still lead to a merged school district that could offer more than either district could on its own, but would be much more affordable to our taxpayers.”
Northville school board President Jim Beirlein led the session, with Mayfield board member Tush Nikollaj. Beirlein explained the genesis of the merger proposal as a bold move he and Nikollaj discussed long before presenting it to the respective boards.
“School financing has changed. State aid is down, costs are up, and the current course of action is unsustainable,” said Beirlein. “It would be irresponsible of us not to enter into discussion of a merger.”
Dougherty and Mayfield Superintendent Paul Williamsen presented the merger option, explaining how it would affect both communities.
Dougherty made it clear that change is inevitable with the school districts and their financial futures. “We can control or leave our destiny in the hands of others,” she said.
Both schools are faced with a bleak financial future, rendering them unsustainable in three to four years.
“We can take control of the situation ourselves at this point,” said Williamsen.
If there is no merger, Mayfield and Northville both project budgetary shortfalls. Officials in Mayfield expect the district will have a $1.9 million budget gap in 2013-14 and a $1.9 million budget gap in 2014-15. Officials in Northville estimate the district will have a $1 million budget gap in 2013-14 and a $1.5 million budget gap in 2014-15.
A handful of Northville and Mayfield residents, merger committee members, combined school board members, and concerned parents gathered for small-group discussions. In the groups the pros and cons of the merger were discussed, as well as questions to be answered by the school boards.
A main concern was how the $19 million in state incentive would be allocated during the next 14 years. The answer is up to the new board created by the merger, which could consist of either five, seven or nine board members with terms of three, four or five years — also to be decided by voters.
Issues of transportation time and costs were brought up, preservation of each school’s small hometown feel, sixth grade integration to middle school, teacher and administrative contracts, and if they would hire a new superintendent of schools were also raised.
More community forums will be announced, as well as combined community meetings.