October 23, 2012

Editorial: Delicate talks need calmness


---- — Here’s a piece of advice for two local schools that are going to talk about the possibility of merger: Don’t get hung up on the small stuff.

Ticonderoga and Crown Point are two central schools that are experiencing declining enrollments. They have been given state money to begin discussing whether a closer relationship between the two would be prudent. This doesn’t mean that the end product will be an out-and-out merger; a study could indicate that that wouldn’t make sense.

And, even if the study revealed that merger would indeed make great sense, the residents of each of the districts would have to pass the measure twice in public votes for it to happen.

So, while preliminary talks have begun, a merger — or something less, such as shared services — is a distant prospect.

But, as the idea of some kind of consolidation begins to take shape, we look back on a similar initiative that took place in Plattsburgh in the 1980s and resulted in the formation of Seton Catholic Central School in 1989.

Its two predecessors, Mount Assumption Institute and St. John’s Central School, were two Catholic schools struggling with financial and enrollment problems. Actually, the struggle had gone on well before the final merger talks were undertaken. But attempts to consolidate the two had always fallen victim to disagreements and jealousies, often over small matters.

Representatives of each school understandably craved the continuity of their own separate traditions in the new institution. So, for example, school colors and nickname became insurmountable sources of agitation.

Bigger issues, such as which buildings would become the home of the new school, seemed beyond resolution, when colors and mascots entered the picture.

But, eventually, the financial stress each school was facing forced the emergence of cooler heads and a sharper focus on solving the important areas of disagreement. And, perhaps most importantly, a spirit of compromise took over the negotiations to the final benefit of everyone.

A new school, Seton Catholic, was formed, now in its own building on the former Air Base — and new colors and a new nickname. Since then, few, if any regrets, have surfaced regarding the merger.

Ticonderoga and Crown Point, unlike MAI and St. John’s, are public schools, and discussions will thus have a different set of circumstances. One is that the state has a direct interest in the outcome and will provide financial incentives to get serious investigations into the matter under way.

But we still urge representatives of both schools to understand that each institution and district has its own traditions and local interests. Compromise must be the prevailing spirit in any discussions. Compromise and a thorough commitment to the overall public good.

We wish them luck as the talks unfold and trust that the results will be the best options for the students, employees, parents and taxpayers of each district.