Panama/Clymer Consolidation Focus Group Meeting Held

Community members listen to Marilyn Kurzawa present. Photo by Jordan Patterson

CLYMER — The sky outside Clymer Central School may have been clear, but talk indoors of a merger feasibility study was anything but.

On Monday night, the cafeteria inside the school became the setting for three focus groups. The groups were briefed on the potential merger between Clymer and Panama school districts. The segments of the focus groups were broken down into three sections: the Amish Community, agriculture and business and then finally a segment for the community members. Needless to say, there were a few questions.

Tom Schmidt, Dave Kurzawa and Marilyn Kurzawa from the Learning Design Associates team tried to answer every question, but more times than not were unable to. This was most likely due to the fact that the consolidation of the two schools is in the early stages of the process. The consolidation process is in the first phase which is primarily designated for reaching out to the two communities and considering their feedback. There will be a total of 22 focus groups, 11 from Clymer and 11 from Panama. The final report won’t be submitted until Sept. 11, 2017, where it will then be reviewed by the NYSED (New York State Education Department). After the review, the final report will be shared with the public and put to a referendum.

“We are collecting data about everything about that school district that we could possibly learn,” Schmidt said.

The biggest concerns from the community were about transportation, taxes, location and the $5 million fine that Panama was stuck with by New York state.

According to Schmidt, they have only just begun looking at the map that shows where all bus pickups are in the school district.

According to the 2010 census, the two districts are similar in population, with Clymer at 3,208 people and Panama at 3,502. Projected enrollment looks to hold steady at around 450 students for Clymer and almost 500 students for Panama. The projected combined student enrollment would be close to 900 students over the next 10 years, according to the presentation given by Learning Design Associates.

The reasons for a proposed merger is that both schools are spending more than they are making. Between 2012 and 2016, Clymer, on average, has spent $31,579 in over-expenditures. Over the same period of time, Panama has spent $75,895 in over-expenditures.

The question that loomed heavily over the dimly lit cafeteria was what would happen with the fine that New York state slapped Panama with? According to Dave Kurzawa, there are a few possible ways that the fine could be resolved, if a potential merger should take place. Among those possibilities include, the state continuing their grant money of $500,000 per year that Panama is already receiving; the fine might disappear after the new school district is created; or lastly, using a chunk of the projected $17 million in incentive aid the new district would receive to put towards the fine which now sits at $2.4 million.

Whether or not the final plan that hasn’t been written yet,will pass through the state remains unclear.

“It’s too soon to tell,” Dave Kurzawa said.

According to Kurzawa, the initial response is a mixed bag which is common with feasibility studies.

“Here, we’re getting the same thing. Some positive (and) some negative,” he said. “The unknown is the biggest problem because you can’t give (the communities) all the answers yet.”