Battle of the small school districts; Roscoe accuses Livingston Manor of issuing ultimatum
The presentation slide on the big screen could not have been more clear: “The Roscoe Central School (RCS) Board wanted this community to know that the Livingston Manor Central School (LMCS) Board has delivered RCS somewhat of an ultimatum. Either RCS agrees to move forward with a merger study or LMCS may no longer be interested in sharing sports with RCS.”
To many in the audience, it sounded as if Livingston Manor wanted to take the next step in a possible merger, and if the Roscoe board, which in December 2011 indicated that it is not interested in taking that next step, does not reverse its position, students in both schools may pay for it with a reduced number of sports teams in which to participate.
Roscoe, with only about 260 students, is a very small district, and Livingston Manor with about 503 students, is not much larger. For the past six years, both schools have worked together to field a football team and, by most accounts, that has worked out well. Last year, the two districts entered into a five-year agreement to widen the cooperation to include all sports teams. But then friction arose and the deal began to unravel with the result that, according to Roscoe superintendent John Evans, neither school could field a girl’s junior varsity basketball team this winter.
At least part of the dispute involves whether the teams would have two coaches, one from each school, or one coach. Roscoe board president Gary Dahlman said the issue involves contractual language regarding coaches at the two schools, and Livingston Manor was pushing to reduce that number to one coach per team, which Roscoe objected to. In a subsequent phone call, Livingston Manor superintendent Deborah Fox said any resolution would need to be worked out with the two different teachers organizations that represent the two districts.
At the meeting, part of an email from Fox was displayed on the screen that read, “It does not seem sensible for our district to continue the athletic merger when the issues that are stumbling blocks seem to be insurmountable…. Our board is not willing to continue to pay the two coaches, as this is not fiscally defensible.”
But the question of the coaches aside, there were other significant concerns raised by Roscoe residents about what could happen if the two districts did decide to merge. One resident said that if the districts merged, she was concerned that the school building in Roscoe could become superfluous and end up being unused, as has been the case with the Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley buildings in the Sullivan West School District.
Evans responded that even if the two districts agreed to keep both buildings open, the new board, which would be elected once the new district was formed, could end that agreement.
There was also the question of whether merging the two districts makes sense in light of the prevailing sentiments from Albany. Another of Evan’s slides said, “Numerous NYS officials, including commissioner of education John King, have stated that if you merge two small poor rural school districts, the end result is a slightly larger small, rural, poor school.”
The state has repeatedly said that their preference for lowering costs for school districts would be “regional consolidation,” which would likely involve many districts.
Therefore, any merger activity undertaken may be a waste of time and money.
A couple of residents suggested that the merger study, which would cost the district only $2,500 after state incentives, should go forward, if only to gain more information about the process, including what new educational programs could be offered.
But most comments made clear that Roscoe residents believed that their school district would be shortchanged in a merger with their larger neighbor.
Fox, who was in the audience and declined to comment on the “ultimatum” charge, said her board would address the issue at their next meeting on January 18.