School districts begin merger work

ST. JOHNSVILLE – Members of the merging Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville school districts’ boards of education are continuing to prepare for the 2013-14 school year.

The districts have started merging their business offices, begun early discussions about the 2013-14 budget and put plans in place to get teachers and students together before the end of this school year.

Oppenheim-Ephratah Superintendent Dan Russom said this is an effort to bring the teachers and students up to the point where the two school boards are – as they prepare to step aside for a new, conjoined board – thinking as a single school district.

“At our last joint meeting, we made it very clear that we should look at it like we’re one board,” Russom said. “That’s how we’re starting to think. I think that’s a good thing. We’re trying to get the same type of camaraderie or belief that last year we were separate, this year we’re now one.”

Teachers from each district will meet after a half-day on Jan. 28, and students will meet after a half-day on Feb 15.

Oppenheim-Ephratah Board President Ben Conte said the members of the two boards will have a busy schedule until the new board’s members are elected March 19.

“The way it looks right now, we’re going to have a meeting every other week,” Conte told the public Thursday. ” … People should keep coming [to these meetings], because that’s where they can ask questions.”

Before the new board members are elected in March, residents of the new district will vote on the number of members and the terms for the members, which Conte and Russom confirmed would start as staggered terms.

Russom said he wasn’t exactly sure how the terms would be staggered initially, but he said if he had to guess using three-year terms on a five-member board as an example, the two members with the most votes would serve three years, the next two would serve two years and the remaining member would serve one year.

After Thursday’s meeting, Russom said he doesn’t know what term is going to be voted in on Jan. 29 – the options are three-, four- and five-year terms – but he has heard that most people want the new board to have seven members rather than five or nine.

“The people who have talked to me seem to like the number seven,” he said. “Five for a new district is too small, nine’s too big. Seven seems to be a good number.”

But the voters will decide, he said.

Petitions to for board candidates will be available after the Jan. 29 vote at each district’s offices, and once the members are elected, HFM BOCES Superintendent Pat Michel will make recommendations for the new district’s superintendent.

Neither Russom nor St. Johnsville Superintendent Laura Campione know who will be the new superintendent, but both said they are interested in the position.

“It’s completely up in the air,” Campione said. “I am very interested. In everything I have done, we’ve made significant gains in the last year. I have a lot of data to show how the school has improved academically. I’m getting my resume together.”

As for the 2013-14 budget, Russom said it has been discussed, but the process hasn’t formally started – the districts’ officials are first working on combining business offices.

“We’re going to put together the two budgets, kind of merge them, and see what we are adding and what we can subtract – where are we repeating services,” he said. “We’re trying to map it, get a handle on it … We don’t have any answers yet, but we’re starting to have those discussions.”

John Borgolini covers rural Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected].

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