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State Needs To Take Bull By The Horns On School Merger Process

If ever there were a school merger that made sense, it was the proposed merger of the Clymer and Panama school districts.

Both districts find themselves educating similar students demographically. Both find themselves in largely untenable financial situations with known expenses likely to increase at a far faster rate than their likely revenues. Both have seen class offerings decreased in recent years. Even while touting the quality of education their district provides, members of the Clymer and Panama communities who served on a Feasibility Study Committee came to the realization that both districts can do a better job preparing their students for college and a career.

The similarities are striking, and yet they weren’t enough to move the proposed merger past the straw vote phase. Panama voters approved proceeding with the merger by a slim margin while Clymer voters overwhelmingly chose to end the process.

The result isn’t entirely surprising.

Residents had questions about transportation for which answers weren’t yet available. Clymer residents expressed concerns about the fine levied by the state Education Department against Panama several years ago and Clymer residents knew the merger wouldn’t lower their taxes much, but instead keep them roughly the same due to the differences in taxable assessment in the two districts.

Monday’s vote is a reminder that even mergers that make sense on paper stand little chance of being approved by voters. New York needs to either change the merger process or take the bull by the horns and force schools to merge when enrollment and finances hinder a school’s ability to provide the type of education children deserve. We hope, as they begin thinking about the upcoming legislative session, we have something for state lawmakers to keep in mind.

State merger incentive aid evidently isn’t enough to encourage voters to merge school districts. In the case of Panama and Clymer, taxpayers of two schools that share a bevy of athletic programs and much of their schools’ leadership teams couldn’t be convinced to take the next step — and the state’s money — and find a way to share academic programs. Throwing more of the state’s money at two shrinking school districts to keep them afloat isn’t the best policy. One school district that can provide a good education is the best policy. It is up to the state to make that policy happen.

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