Press-Republican

January 23, 2012

Ticonderoga, Crown Point schools will study merger

LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

TICONDEROGA — Ticonderoga and Crown Point school districts are seeking a grant that would recommend whether they should consolidate.

The $45,000 State Local Government Efficiency Grant would fund a merger feasibility study for the two districts.

Ticonderoga Superintendent John McDonald Jr. is the lead applicant designee for the grant, which has a $5,000 local share that would be split between Ticonderoga and Crown Point school districts.

FEWER STUDENTS

Both schools face declining enrollments. Crown Point has 280 students, while Ticonderoga has 900. Ten years ago, Crown Point was at about 350 and Ticonderoga at 1,100.

Ticonderoga and Crown Point school boards had to jointly approve the grant application, which is due March 31.

They will find out in April whether it was awarded, McDonald said, with the study probably taking about six months to complete.

"It's a competitive grant, but we think we have a good chance. We'd then have to contract with a consultant."

PUBLIC VOTES

The districts would probably seek proposals from consultants, accept the best one, then form community stakeholder committees to get started, he said.

"The consultant would give us a report by fall. Then there's a vote by both boards."

If Ticonderoga and Crown Point school boards voted to merge the schools, each district would then have to hold two public referendums: an advisory vote and a final vote.

"Both populaces vote twice," McDonald said. "All four votes have to be positive."

The feasibility study would examine any cost and logistical savings from a merger and detail how a merger would be accomplished.

'BETTER CHOICE'

The two schools are about 10 miles apart, and it's not known if the smaller school, Crown Point, would close its building or use it for just certain grades. Both schools are now kindergarten through 12th grade.

In 1967, Mineville and Port Henry schools merged to become Moriah Central School, and a new facility was built.

In 1979, Hague Central School District was annexed to Ticonderoga, after numerous previous votes had failed.

With annexation, only the district being annexed votes, and that school is usually closed, as Hague was. With a merger, both schools could remain open or new facilities could be constructed.

And this is a study only for a merger, McDonald said, not annexation.

"I think, critically, the merger is the better choice."

BUDGETS

Both school districts have laid off staff in recent years to reduce tax hikes, and instructional and administrative wages have been frozen.

The 2011-12 Ticonderoga budget is at $18.99 million, while Crown Point has a $6.08 million budget this year.

Crown Point Superintendent Shari Brannock said the last time the State Department of Education looked at a reorganization plan for Crown Point and Ticonderoga was in 1958.

"In that plan, if districts reorganized, by choice or were forced to, Crown Point would face splitting our students between Moriah and Ticonderoga."

She said they want something up-to-date to consider.

"Because of the economic crisis and the shortfalls in state-aid revenue, we have been and should be looking into the most efficient ways to operate our schools. That is the goal of the grant.

"We are looking to be proactive and make good plans for the future of our schools."

Email Lohr McKinstry at: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com