By JAIME STUDD
For the Express
NORTHVILLE — The Mayfield and Northville boards of education each voted unanimously last Thursday night to pass resolutions endorsing a proposed merger of the two districts. The affirmative votes mean the plan can now go before voters for a straw vote on Sept. 18.
By law, the votes had to take place individually, with each board convening, voting, and then adjourning their separate meetings.
But the vote was preceded by a joint meeting, with the members of both boards sitting as a single body to conduct a public forum on the issue.
Though both boards have conducted several community meetings aimed at informing residents about the need for, and the specific details involved in the merger plan, the questions and comments from those in attendance Thursday night indicated that a need for more public involvement remains in each community.
Several community members expressed a fear that a lack of accurate information being disseminated through the districts will lead to the merger’s defeat. Others said the majority of residents were not fully aware of the dire consequences that would likely result from the districts not merging.
“It seems to me that you’re lacking in terms of educating people on what the alternative would be to a merger,” said Mahlon Robinson. “It seems to me that you could probably come up with a decent projection of what the districts will look like if there is no merger.”
“You’re right,” said former Northville Board of Education President Jim Beirlein. “What we need is an audience full of people instead of just a handful.”
Both board members and members of the community expressed dismay that none of the informational meetings held on the issue drew more than a couple dozen people in either community.
Mayfield Superintendent Paul Williamsen and Northville Superintendent Kathy Dougherty both indicated that thorough reviews of their districts finances have resulted in projections that both schools will likely be insolvent in as little as five years time, at which point they would be subject to a state takeover.
Referring to the drastic cuts that each district has had to make over the last five years, Dougherty said: “Fifty-six people who used to be in our halls working with students are no longer in our districts. We’re hemorrhaging people and we’re hemorrhaging programs.”
Williamsen said his board is already working on how to overcome an estimated $800,000 shortfall in the 20123-2014 school year.
“Each of us have fundraising signs outside our schools,” said Williamsen. “That’s just for athletics. Wait until we have to start doing it for math and science.”
“We need to reach 20,000 people, not 2,000,” said Dougherty. “There’s a huge collection of people that still don’t have this information.”
The concerns from residents in attendance on Thursday mirrored many of those expressed at previous meetings. Questions revolved around the affect the merger will have on each community’s tax rate, what programs will be offered, the make-up of the new district’s school board, the fear of each community losing its sense of identity and how the new district will avoid the urge to overspend the nearly $19 million dollars in incentive aid that it will receive over the next 15 years should the merger take place.
“The plan, I think, is quite responsible,” said Dougherty. “There is absolutely no intent whatsoever to blow this money over the course of the 15 years.”
The merger plan includes calls for $6 million in merger aid to be placed in reserves and another $4 million will be used to pay down debt in both districts.
Dougherty urged any members of the community who have any questions or concerns to contact her directly. Both districts will also be disseminating a newsletter entitled “Mayfield-Northville: Merger Matters,” which will include the most important information regarding the planned merger. Dougherty said a Facebook site has also been set up under the same name and the specifics of the plan can be found on either district’s web sites.
Prior to casting his vote, Dennis Poulin, a newly elected member to the Northville board told the audience: “I think this is too important for 10 people sitting here to make this decision. I think it belongs to the people of both communities.”