The Path Toward School Consolidation in NYS

NYS officials have wanted to force smaller districts to consolidate for some time.

In the late 90’s, Governor Cuomo (the first), authorized NYSED to identify school districts that could/should be consolidated. An attempt was made to pass legislation to take voter approval out of the pic but at that time it failed to pass muster and the Regents would not back it bc of opposition to the same.

The study initially identified 139 school districts (approximately one-fifth of all districts) for further study, based on factors such as enrollment decline, high non-instructional expenditures, high tax effort and low wealth, a high reliance on state aid, and lack of a continuous K-12 program. In the second phase of the study, this group was significantly narrowed (and several other districts added), and 26 districts were studied further.

Generally, SED attempted to weed out the districts that had successfully dealt with structural problems such as enrollment declines or low enrollment, and focus only on those districts which could not overcome such“organizational challenges” and had efficiency and performance issues. The Department worked “cooperatively” with the 26 districts that they wanted to consolidate. But, local and legislative reaction to the SED effort was very negative, and the process ended without any school districts being specifically identified for reorganization or dissolution.
Cuomo and NYSED (that time Commish Sobol) desired to consolidate districts but were shot down. I will have to check to see whether my districtl falls within the category of schools that NYSED wanted to reorganize but my guess is not at that time.

Cuomo the second, is bringing this issue back up. He wants to seek legislation to “force” districts to consolidate. Dont know where that stands, but Im keeping my eyes and ears open. This means that BOE are being wooed by NYSED to consider consoldation as an option, there are some financial incentives that go along with it that make this attractive. But, again, at present it requires voter approval. This could change in some cases, as will discussed below.

NYSEDs guide to consolidation and reorganization of school districts provides guidance. My district is a Union Free school district, so we would have to follow those specific regulations as described herein to consolidate if our BOE and a neighboring school were interested.

While a measure  to consolidate would not get voter approval in my district if proposed,  I assume, we may not have a choice but to consolidate with a district contiguous to us in the future appears. With all due respect, Cuomo and NYSED seeem very eager to issue policy that undermine schools and local control. Who knows what the next 3-5 years will bring for us as a small autonomous district – SED seeks to erode local control by seeking legislation to take the decision out of voters hands.

Indeed, here is an article circa 2013 with Gov. Cuomo’s agenda front and center – despite GEA clawback, frozen FA, tax cap and fact that NYS owes our schools billions, Cuomo scoffs at cash strapped schools and suggests an easy peasy solution: MERGE.

NYSED and the Regents have jumped on board with this agenda.

The Regents propose allowing school districts to build collaborative secondary school partnerships that will “provide greater educational services for less cost” without voter approval in some cases.

• Two models:
Regional High School
operated by a host district

Regional High School
operated by a BOCES

In many of his visits to school districts, King said, the main concern raised has been resources. He said districts are concerned about declining enrollment and are trying to protect programs they offer students. He said the state Education Department proposed a $1.3 billion increase in state aid to schools but also has proposed a bill to allow the creation of regional high schools so districts can share resources.

Here is the Regents memo addressing legislation to give NYSEDs Commissioner of Education the authority to order Regionalization of HS withOUT requiring voter approval in certain situations.…/March2012/312sad1.pdf

Of course, Cosimo Tangorra (NYSEDs self proclaimed regionalization expert) was brought in to replace Ken Slentz just recently.

A school superintendent with a statewide reputation for carrying out successful district mergers is taking a top spot in Albany’s oversight of elementary and secondary education.School leaders on Long Island and elsewhere praised the appointment Wednesday of Cosimo “Cos” Tangorra, 44, of upstate Herkimer, as the state’s new deputy education commissioner for preschool through grade 12. The Board of Regents unanimously approved Tangorra’s selection at their monthly meeting in Albany.Colleagues described the new deputy commissioner, whose two teenage children attend public schools, as a man who cares deeply about students and understands the day-to-day problems facing the state’s nearly 700 districts.”His heart’s in the right place,” said Lorna Lewis, schools chief in Plainview-Old Bethpage. She and Tangorra have served together the past four years on the 10-member governing board of The New York State Council of School Superintendents.The council, in a statement, acknowledged Tangorra’s leadership in school district consolidations — a subject of growing debate on the Island as well as upstate. Tangorra played a role in the two successful mergers in New York since 2008.

He currently is superintendent of Central Valley schools, a 2,300-student district in the Mohawk Valley region that is the product of a 2013 merger of the Ilion and Mohawk systems.
From 2002 to 2004, he headed another district in the area, Oppenheim-Ephratah, where he was involved in consolidation talks that contributed to an eventual combination with neighboring St. Johnsville.
In an interview, Tangorra acknowledged that local factors largely govern the success or failure of merger attempts. He said, however, that certain universal principles apply.
“In any district, if you can be more efficient and effective, and do more for students, why wouldn’t you?” he said.
Tangorra takes the $163,000-a-year deputy commissioner post later this month; an exact date is yet to be set. He succeeds Kenneth Slentz, who resigned earlier this month to become superintendent in upstate Skaneateles.
District mergers, while relatively rare, are getting a push from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders. They have approved tax incentives in 2015-16 and 2016-17 for homeowners in school systems and municipalities that save money through consolidations and other streamlining.
Many local school leaders remain skeptical of outright consolidation, saying such moves could cost more in contractual raises than they save. Others say more limited moves toward shared services may be worth a try.
Next month, the Southold and Greenport districts will begin operating under a single superintendent.
“I do think there is genuine interest in seeing whether these kinds of agreements can work,” said David Gamberg, the Southold schools chief slated to also run Greenport’s system.

Gov Cuomo offers $$$ and tax incentives to consolidate at the outset:

“Did you know?

Governor Cuomo created Citizen Empowerment Grants that provides direct financial assistance to local governments to plan for and implement the restructuring of local governments pursuant to the New New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act. These grants, which are administered by the Department of State, provide up to $25,000 in immediate financial assistance to a local government petitioned by citizens to act on municipal re-organization to offset expenses related to that process. There is an additional $75,000 that will be made available to assist with re-organization planning and implementation.

Governor Cuomo changed the law to require that 70 percent of the increased state aid as a result of a merger or dissolution of government goes directly to taxpayer relief when there was formerly no requirement that any state aid went to taxpayer relief.

The Local Government Citizen’s Re-Organization Tax Credit, created by Governor Cuomo, provides additional annual aid to local governments equal to 15 percent of the combined amount of real property taxes levied by all of the municipalities involved in a consolidation or dissolution, not to exceed $1,000,000. This aid can be provided directly to a local government that has re-organized on or after April 1, 2007 and requires that 70 percent of state funds be returned to the citizens of the local governments in the form of direct property tax relief.

As you can see, while consolidation is Cuomo’s agenda,  NYSED and the Regents are taking the issue and running with it. Starving schools of money leading to fiscal and educational insolvency, it appears that they intend to seek legislation to force consolidations on some districts that can no longer operate instead of providing adequate funding and resources to our schools thereby  eroding local control and denigrating nieghborhood schools further.





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