Committee looks at building configurations, school days, BOCES,
transportation, and incentive aid
The Community Advisory Committee had a packed
agenda for its July 6 meeting at Ilion Junior-Senior High School (view
PDF of the agenda). The group continued its discussion of building
configuration and began looking at the role of Herkimer BOCES, school
days and times, and transportation.
Another look at building configurations and other merger
The committee continued to wrestle with the
leadership teams' choice of building configurations. With a goal of
settling the issue, they broke into subcommittees and asked three separate
panels of superintendents, secondary principals, or elementary
principals questions. Following are samples of the questions:
How will the district select a building
The advisory committee will recommend a plan to the
new school board that is educationally sound, cost effective, fits
within existing building capacity, and is sensitive to transportation
issues. It will be up to the board of education to review the plan and
implement it or any other that its members feel is in the best
interest of the students and the community.
Will all of the proposed elementary buildings
accommodate pre-kindergarten classes?
Ilion is currently modifying Barringer Elementary
for pre-k classes. Herkimer currently has only one morning and one
afternoon pre-k class and might require some renovation. Mohawk and
Frankfort-Schuyler currently house pre-k classes.
How will the district ensure that elementary
students all learn the same material and are ready to move on to fifth
The district will need a curriculum coordinator to
be certain each year's content prepares students for the next.
Why not have two high schools to increase the
number of teams and broaden sports opportunities for students?
The school administrators noted the following
challenges to maintaining two high schools:
Splitting into two high schools might increase
the number of teams in some sports such as basketball, but
dividing the students would limit the expansion of new sports such
as lacrosse or skiing.
Separate high schools would mean that students
attend elementary school in their home communities, join together
for grades 5-8, then split apart again for high school—an option
no one supports.
Separate high schools would require the
district to divert resources to duplicate programs in each
building. That would reduce efficiency, raise costs, and ultimately
limit the range of programs the schools could offer.
Will the Ilion auditorium house all high
No, the auditorium has a capacity of 625 people. It
could host any class level event. Large scale events would be held in
Why create a school for fifth and sixth grade?
Why not leave fifth grade with elementary and sixth grade with middle
The needs of children in this age group are very
different from those of elementary and junior high students. A grades
5-6 building would allow the district to develop academic and social
programs to meet age specific needs. For example, health classes or
lessons in cybersecurity could be tailored to cover the topics most
relevant to 10- and 11-year-olds. This configuration would better
allow the school to focus students on a smooth transition as they
prepare for junior high.
Combining just two years of students in one
building also opens the doors to different teaching models such as
traditional separate classrooms (as in elementary school), one course
per room (as in junior high school), team teaching, or even one
teacher who stays with one class for two years. Another possibility
might be project-based instruction in which students work together
across all disciplines (math, language arts, science, social studies,
foreign language and the arts) to complete a large project.
Project-based lessons more closely imitate the type of work people do
in the 21st century. As one superintendent stated, "We can no longer
prepare students for a 21st century workplace running a 19th century
Would it be possible to keep the single
grade 5-6 and single grade 7-8 plan, but switch buildings?
The leadership team's preferred plan would use
Frankfort-Schuyler's secondary school for the proposed grades 5-6
building and Herkimer's secondary school for grades 7-8. CAC members
suggested switching schools noting:
A grades 5-6 school in Herkimer would
place the younger students in the more central location,
shortening average bus rides.
Younger students are less image conscious and
would likely make greater use of Herkimer's school swimming pool.
Frankfort-Schuyler's athletic fields are
adjacent to the school benefitting the modified sports program.
What about transportation and long bus rides?
Transportation will be an issue regardless of the
configuration. The simple fact is that most students would spend more
time on a bus. The goal is to keep all bus routes under one hour.
Will transportation costs rise?
Elementary students may still walk to school, but
eventually every child would ride a bus. In addition, the different
schools would need staggered start times to physically get all the
students to school each day. That would require more bus runs at added
cost. With state aid, that would be approximately $600,000 for the
first year. As the year progresses, and the transportation director
reviews the runs and the number of students riding buses, that figure
is expected to decrease. (View
the preliminary look at school times and transportation (PDF))
Are there other challenges?
The biggest challenge is change.
Area residents are accustomed to four school
districts that have delivered the same model of education for decades.
Many children walk to the same buildings their parents or grandparents
attended years ago.
Today, the reality is that schools are being asked
to do more with less—to teach students to higher standards and to
operate districts with less money. Schools must make major
changes—changes that most people would rather not make—simply to
survive. A recent report by the Statewide School Finance Consortium
indicates that our four schools will lack the money to operate in
three years or less. Even slashing educational programming and
eliminating extracurricular activities and interscholastic sports, the
districts can only survive another few years.
The communities must be willing to stand back and
objectively look at how a merged district might look AND what will
happen to their schools if there is no merger. That is the greatest
challenge when considering a merger.
Will a merger save money?
The incentive aid and improved efficiencies will
improve finances and the quality of education the district can
deliver. That means slowing tax increases and broadening course
offerings and services for students.
How much is the incentive aid?
The aid is calculated as a percentage of the
general operating aid the four districts received in 2006-07. The new
district would receive 40 percent of that figure ($7.6 million) each
year for five years. The percentage would fall four percent each year
(36 to 32 to 28, etc.) until reaching zero in fourteen years. (view
PDF of estimated incentive aid calculations)
Can we trust the incentive aid figures?
At this point, it is in the state's political
interest to promote mergers. The governor and legislators have stated
that public agencies such as schools need to be more efficient to
reduce costs. Merging and shared services (such as BOCES) are the best
ways to achieve that goal. The legislature demonstrated that this is a
big priority by increasing funding for merger studies from $5 million
in 2010-11 to $79 million in 2011-12. Although there are no
guarantees, it would appear incentive will continue into the
The role of BOCES
Herkimer BOCES Superintendent Mark Vivacqua
explained that local schools share the cost of running BOCES. He
outlined the what services BOCES supplies and how districts take
advantage of those services. (see
the BOCES summary)
He noted that the four districts have worked hard
to collaborate throughout the merger study process—and collaboration
has not always been easy to accomplish. If the schools were to join,
they would account for 50 percent of the students in the Herkimer
BOCES. The new district would steer the direction of the BOCES through
the students the district sends to BOCES.
Although he has no current opinion regarding the
merger, he is excited by the opportunities a merger might create for
students. Among the possibilities he sees are an alternative education
program and increased participation in upper level BOCES classes such
as Renewable Energy (a study of green technologies).