Merger Questions & Answers
Residents have asked many questions about the
proposed merger throughout the merger study and the lead up to the
vote. Below you will find many of those questions and their answers
broken into general categories. If you have other questions, please
feel free to submit them via the
Click on a category below to jump to questions on that topic
What happens without a merger
General Questions concerning the merger
Q: Why are we even considering a merger?
A. Beginning in 2009, the nation’s economic
troubles left New York State without the money to provide promised aid
to our schools. Over the past three years, Ilion lost more than $5
million in aid. Our taxpayers could not make up for those losses, so
we began spending our savings and cutting our staff and programs. Our
savings are nearly gone and further cuts will leave us unable to
provide our students with a sound, basic education. Our board of
education decided to look into a merger as a way to save money by
using the combined resources of Ilion, Herkimer, and Mohawk to operate
more efficiently. In addition, New York provides incentive aid to
promote mergers and to help with any additional costs as districts
transition from two districts to one.
Q: Are district finances as bad
as we hear?
A: Yes. District officials project a $3 million budget
gap in 2013-14. To make up that gap, Ilion would need to cut as many
as 40 teachers or raise property taxes as much as 64 percent (or a
combination of the two
Q: Won’t the state have to step in if things
A: No. Our legislators have made it clear that the state
does not have the money or the political desire to rescue struggling
school districts. The future of our local schools rests with our
Q: Exactly how much “extra” aid would we receive if we
A: In addition to regular school aid, the new district would
receive an additional $58.9 million in merger incentive aid paid over
the next 14 years. The first five payments are the largest and then
they steadily decrease until the 14 years expires. Our regular school
aid continues through the merger and after the incentive aid expires.
Q: Is that incentive aid guaranteed?
A: New York has always paid
incentive aid as promised. While few things in life are guaranteed,
New York State lawmakers have shown demonstrated their support for
municipal and school districts consolidation by setting aside more
money each year to fund merger studies such as ours. They have also
set aside money for school districts that choose to consolidate
(merger incentive aid).
Q: If the state has money for mergers, why
not simply give it schools as regular aid?
A: The message from Albany
is that it will no longer support small governments and schools, which
it believes are inefficient. The state will commit money to promote
change and this is the change the state wants.
Q: Will we wind up in
the same financial hole when the incentive aid runs out?
A: No. The
merger study provides a roadmap to fiscal security by using incentive
aid to pay down existing capital debt, setting aside money in savings,
and stabilizing the tax levy. After Year 5, the district will have to
make up $400,000 each year to offset the annual decline in incentive
aid. This could be done through:
Increases in regular state
aid to schools;
Finding on-going efficiencies;
Increasing the local property tax levy by 48 cents per $1,000 of true
value each year; or
Some combination of those options.
Q: Have the three districts looked at sharing more services instead of
A: Yes. The three districts have saved money over the years
by buying cooperatively and sharing selected services. Unfortunately,
state aid reductions have created a funding gap so large that nothing
as simple as sharing services will fix the districts’ fiscal problems.
The financial difficulties the districts now face are so large that a
complete merger is the only way to significantly increase efficiencies
and lower the overall cost of operations.
Q: Are we in the current
fiscal mess because the boards of education “blew it?”
A: No, our
troubles are because New York State cut the amount of money we receive
in state aid and instituted a tax levy cap that makes it difficult to
make up for those cuts. This would be like your employer cutting your
paycheck and then your creditors telling you that you spending too
much. The problem is created by of your sudden change in income and
not by irresponsible spending.
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Without a merger
Q: What happens if
Ilion, Herkimer, and Mohawk residents choose NOT to merge?
there is no merger, the three would continue as three separate school
districts. The districts would have no other choice than to
dramatically reduce the programs and services they offer students.
Q: What programs could be cut?
A: As the boards of education have in
past years, they would do their best to use every resource to preserve
every opportunity for our students. Eventually—next year or perhaps
further down the road—they would have to look at class sizes and all
non-mandated programs—programs not required under the law. The list
Q: Why not just cut the extras?
A: Over the years, the districts have trimmed away anything that was not
necessary to maintain a well-rounded education. There are no extras
left to cut. All that remains are the programs and services that
residents have come to expect as a regular part of school.
there a plan if the merger proposal fails?
A: Not at this time. The
boards of education know their districts’ finances and will address it
if necessary. Instead, they are focusing on the proposed merger.
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Q: Will we have to build new buildings?
A: No, the study
shows that we have adequate space at all of our buildings to
accommodate our students. If we needed to perform repairs or
renovations within 10 years of approving the merger—work that would
need to be completed with or without a merger— the state provides
enhanced building aid.
Q: Where would my child go to school?
community would have a PreK-4 elementary school. Students in grades
5-6 would attend upper elementary school in Mohawk’s current Jarvis
High School. Students in grades 7-8 would attend middle school in the
current Herkimer Junior-Senior High building. Students in grade 9-12
would attend high school in the current Ilion Junior-Senior High
Q: Why close Remington rather than other buildings?
Ilion's buildings, Remington is smaller and could house fewer students
AND the plan attempts to be fair to all communities leaving two
buildings in each. (Note: Remington will not be abandoned or closed -
it may be rented to another program and/or house the new district
Q: Would Remington Elementary be sold?
A: No, it makes no
sense to sell the building. First, the district would lose millions of
dollars in state aid for recent renovations to the building. Second,
it is unlikely the district would receive a sale price high enough to
pay off the debt on those renovations. Third, Remington could earn
revenue if rented to other education programs such as Herkimer BOCES.
Fourth, the building provides additional space for classrooms or
offices if needed.
Q: Our gymnasiums and auditoriums barely hold the
parents and students who attend various events. How would we fit
spectators and patrons in a larger district? When Mohawk plays Ilion
in basketball, spectators from both communities pack the gym for the
age-old rivalry. Would the same number of people turn out to see a
merged team play Whitesboro? What about graduation and concerts?
A: The new district would likely wrestle with
those questions for the first couple of years. Solutions may include
moving graduation and major sporting events to Herkimer County
Community College. Plays could be held on multiple nights. Concerts
might be broken up into fewer groups performing on a given night.
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Curriculum & extracurricular
Q: Why not make each elementary building at grades PreK-5 building
and have a 6-8 middle school?
A: The educational and emotional needs
of fifth and sixth graders are unlike those of younger and older
students. The superintendents—and the CAC agreed—that the best
configuration placed grades 5-6 together with a program that
specifically met their needs.
Q: Would elementary families have the
option to change schools?
A: Yes, families of elementary students
could be allowed to choose which elementary school their children
attend. However, the merger study recommends that students attend
their community school during the first year of a merged district.
Q: What opportunities would exist for students in a merged district?
A: The plan greatly expands the programs and services the districts
currently offer students. Each district currently offers different
programs and electives, which would be combined in the merged district
to expand student opportunities. This would increase high school
offerings a minimum of 51 classes. Without a merger, however, students
will see a loss of opportunities as the districts cut teachers and
Q: What about new opportunities for special needs students?
A: State and federal laws require districts to provide very specific
opportunities for special needs students. These opportunities would
continue in the future.
Q: So who benefits from the new classes?
greatest benefit would be for students who have been neglected because
the districts lacked the resources to provide adequate programming.
Borderline students would have access to extra help. Gifted students
who went unchallenged would choose from a long list of college level
courses. And every student whether destined for a trade or a college
degree would have new and greater opportunities.
Q: Are the new high
school course offerings cast in stone?
A: No, the district could
review the list and add/remove courses based on student interest.
Q: Won’t larger class sizes translate into poorer student performance?
A: Research shows that smaller classes are critical for grades K-3 and
that class size does not influence student performance in grades 4-12.
(Research says the most important factor is the quality of the
teacher.) The plan calls for class sizes of 24 for grades 4-6 and 25
for grades 7-12. This would allow the district to make best use of its
buildings and faculty and still provide a better education for
Q: In a merged district, there would only be one soccer
team, one valedictorian, one lead in the school play. How will we be
giving our kids more opportunities?
A: It is true; there would be
increased competition for “top” spots—i.e., starting point guard,
class president—but a merged district could offer a greater variety of
opportunities than each individual district alone. For instance, with
a larger student body, each sport could potentially support multiple
levels of competition—i.e., modified, JV and varsity. A merged
district could also potentially offer different interscholastic sports
that neither school district currently offers, such as boys
volleyball. The same goes for extracurricular activities: A merged
district could offer students a greater variety of clubs and
after-school programs. In the classroom, a merged district could offer
more enrichment opportunities, such as foreign language instruction at
the elementary level and Advanced Placement and college-level courses
at the high school.
Q: In what sports class would the new district
A: With approximately 3500 preK-12 students, the district
would compete as a Class A school. Locally, Class A includes Oneida,
Camden, New Hartford and Whitesboro.
Q: Would the new district make
more use of distance learning?
A: The new district may become a center
for distance learning by offering classes to other districts that lack
the enrollment or the funding to provide them. The ongoing challenge
remains aligning class schedules across the region so that all
students are available to take classes when they are offered.
Q: How do you respond to the fact that graduations rates are lower in
This is true if comparing small schools to large, poor
urban schools. The truth is that it is not size that lowers graduation
rates; it is opportunity. Look at Shenendehowa near Albany. Despite
having 9,800 students (three times the size of the proposed
Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk merged district), Shenendehowa graduates 92
percent of its students. Compare that to graduation rates of Herkimer
– 71 percent; Ilion – 81 percent; and Mohawk – 77 percent.
Shenendehowa’s success is tied to the opportunities it offers
all of its students—from struggling to high achieving. A merged
district may be larger, but combining resources would enable the
district to offer more classes and expanded extracurricular activities
to promote learning and to better engage students. Not only would that
improve graduation rates, but it would heighten competition and open
new academic and career paths.
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Q: What would happen to taxes in Year 1 of a merged district?
the plan, taxes on a home with a market value of $100,000 in Herkimer
and Mohawk would fall an estimated $328 and $385 respectively. Taxes in
Ilion would remain unchanged.
Q: Where is the benefit for Ilion
residents if their taxes are unchanged?
A: A merger provides Ilion’s
children with more classes and extracurricular opportunities they have
in the past. Without a merger, Ilion residents would continue paying
the same—or steadily higher—taxes for a much lower quality education
than offered under the merger.
Q: What would happen to taxes in Year
2 of a merged district?
A: Because there would be one merged school
district, there would be one true-value tax rate that everyone in the
district would pay – the same rate per $1,000 of true value regardless
of which former district the property is located in. The merged
district would be subject to the same legislation regarding school
taxes as every other school district in the state, including the new
tax levy “cap.”
Q: Won’t the new district be forced to use the
majority of incentive aid paying for increased transportation and
leveling up teacher contracts?
A: The merger study lays out a financial
roadmap for the district. It shows that the district can pay down
debt, meet existing costs (such as salaries), and save for the future.
If the new board of education follows that plan, the district would
remain fiscally stable for the next 15-20 years. The districts’
teachers currently have three separate contracts with three separate
salary schedules. Although merged districts have traditionally
negotiated new contracts that raise lower paid employees to the higher
salary schedules, today’s fiscal challenges would force the new board
of education to explore new ways of addressing salary differences.
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Q: How many more kids would ride buses as a result of
A: All children would eventually travel to a school in a
different community from where live. That means they would either ride
a bus, drive to school or be delivered to school by parents. At this
point, we expect ridership to rise 50 percent. The additional cost of
that busing is included in the plan.
Q: Ilion currently contracts for
transportation while Herkimer and Mohawk operate their own buses. What
would happen in the new district?
A: The new district would continue
to operate owned buses and contract for service. This provides greater
flexibility to add or drop buses as needed while the district works
out busing details.
Q: Some kids in Mohawk already ride the bus
almost one hour in the morning. How much longer will they be on a bus
riding to their new schools?
A: The plan calls for no student to ride
the bus longer than one hour. In fact, the goal is for no student to
be on a bus longer than 45 minutes.
Q: Where will Remington students
A: The study used very conservative numbers when
calculating the number of students that would comfortably fit in the
various buildings. Based on past enrollment, the building capacity for Barringer’s capacity is actually 10 percent greater than the 584
students listed in the study—the number is closer to 635. Ilion’s
combined K-4 enrollment is currently 594 students. The building would
be full, but should hold all Ilion elementary students. If the
additions of pre-kindergarten and new students push the enrollment
beyond Barringer’s capacity, some student in eastern Ilion would then
attend Fisher Elementary in Mohawk.
Q: What happens to students and staff at the
A: The board of education would likely leave
elementary school students and staff unchanged, at least at the
beginning. The obvious exception would be the staff and students at
Ilion’s Remington Elementary, which would close under the plan. Most
of those student and teachers would go to Ilion’s Barringer Road
Elementary and the remainder would likely be transferred to Mohawk. It
is important to note that the new board of education would have the
authority to reassign students to avoid overcrowding or reassign
teachers depending on district needs and teacher qualifications.
Q: Would there be bus runs for
after school extracurricular activities?
A: Yes. The merger study
includes provisions for late buses at 3:30 and 5:45 p.m. each day.
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Q: If the plan calls for fewer teachers, who decides which
teachers stay and which go?
A: Under New York State law, those
decisions must be made solely on the basis of seniority.
Q: How would
the new district teach the same number of high school students with
A: The new district would be more efficient than three
separate districts. Due to scheduling and enrollment conflicts, each
school currently has some teachers teaching classes with just a few
students. The merged district could combine those small classes into
classes with up to 25 students reducing the number of teachers needed.
Some of those teachers would be laid off and others would be free to
teach new courses.
Q: How would we merge our teaching staffs?
A: Under New York State law,
current teachers would be appointed based on seniority within their
certification areas. For example, the merger study calls for 14
science teachers, but three districts have 18 certified and tenured
science teachers. By law, the 15 with the most seniority would be
offered positions. The remaining four would be placed on a “call-back
list,” meaning they would be the first offered a job if a position
Q: Are there more administrators under the
A: No. The new district would have 20 percent fewer
administrators—one less principal and 2.5 less district level
Q: How would a merger affect retirees?
A: The same
laws that currently protect retirees’ benefits would continue in a
merged district. Any changes would require negotiation with the
collective bargaining unit and the new school district.
Q: What would
happen to existing employee contracts?
A: Existing contracts would
remain in effect until the new district and the collective bargaining
units negotiate new contracts. As is the case with all negotiations,
both sides would have to make a good faith effort to reach an
agreement. Terms of existing agreements may or may not become part of
the agreements with the new school district.
Q: Who would negotiate
on behalf of the employees?
A: New bargaining units would be chosen
by members of the union, just as was done with current bargaining
Q: How would the district choose a new superintendent?
of the new board of education’s first responsibilities would be to
hire a new superintendent. The board could hire an internal candidate
or with help from the Herkimer BOCES District Superintendent, could
seek applicants, review resumes, and ultimately hire the new
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Q: What happens to the school boards?
Do they merge, too?
A: No. If all three communities approve the
merger in a straw poll (non-binding advisory referendum), two
questions about the school board of the new, merged school district
would appear on the ballot when residents vote in the binding
Should there be 5, 7 or 9 board
members on the new Board of Education?
Should each board
member’s term of office be 3, 4 or 5 years in length? Residents will
elect new board members in a special election on Dec. 19.
seat would be considered at-large, meaning there would not be a
specific number of “Herkimer seats” versus “Ilion seats” versus
“Mohawk seats.” The three separate school boards would continue
operating until August 1, 2013 to settle all business of the individual school districts such as paying outstanding bills.
Q: Who can serve on the new board of education?
A: Anyone who is 18 years or older and a resident of the new district for
at least 30 days prior to the vote, will be eligible to run for a seat
on the new board of education.
Q: What can the new school board do?
Does it have to follow the roadmap?
A: The new Board of Education
would use the merger study as a blueprint and act in good faith
regarding both staffing and the budget of the new district. It would,
however, be up to the voters to choose board members who would best
represent the communities’ wishes.
Q: How can residents ensure the
new board of education follows a sound fiscal plan?
A: Just as they
can with their current school districts, residents of the merged
district will be able to attend school board meetings and review the
public information made available by state law. Residents will also
continue to vote for new school board members and the annual school
budget every May.
Q: Who tackles the details of the transition to a
A: The state Department of
Education will guide the districts through the merger votes. If the
public approves the merger, SED will oversee board of education elections and remain as
interim superintendent until the board hires a new superintendent. At
that point, the board of education and the superintendent with help
from the staff and community will set to work transitioning to a
Q: What can we do to preserve the small-town feel?
A: Our schools have a small-town feel—not because of our size, but—
because our families and communities are actively involved in our
schools. We have already shown in our merged sports teams that we are
still a local community supporting our kids. As long as scouts use
school facilities, patrons attend school plays and concerts and
parents roll up their sleeves as members of our parent-teacher
organizations, we will remain a small-town school. The vote
will we vote?
A: On Tuesday, Sept. 12, residents of three communities
will vote on Statutory Referendum (or straw vote) asking whether the
Herkimer, Ilion, and Mohawk central school districts should merge into
a single district. More details are included in this newsletter.
Q: How do we get more information?
A: Please take time to read this
newsletter. It answers many of the questions you may have. If you have
further questions, please visit our school websites (herkimercsd.org,
ilioncsd.org or moahwk.k12.ny.us) or contact the school
superintendents or board of education members in the districts.
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