November 14, 2012

Editorial: Cooperation among districts


---- — We have spent many words in this space over the years urging municipalities and school districts to economize, including investigating the financial benefits that could be realized by merging two entities into one.

We have encouraged the town and city of Plattsburgh to earnestly try to realize some savings by working together, sharing services and even by considering a merger, as difficult and complicated as that process would admittedly be.

We have wondered why some school districts couldn’t do more to cut costs by sharing some of their proximate services, such as buses or programs.

Costs continue to rise. We’ve been told repeatedly that pension and insurance costs for schools are rising rapidly. Where is a school district supposed to get money to cover those and other costs? Real-estate values have declined, taking down taxes with them. Either the value of the property has to go up or the tax rate will, just to break even.

So why aren’t school districts doing more to aggressively and creatively find areas of saving?

The Albany Times-Union noted that the State Regents, which oversees public-school education in New York, met last week and has vowed anew to persuade school districts to find ways to share their burdens for the benefit of taxpayers. For example, they are considering financial incentives for districts that work together and penalties for those that can but do not.

A larger role for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services is being investigated, as well as cutting some aid that actually discourages districts from finding ways to cooperate, such as building aid. If the state does not offer building aid, for example, the districts may have to find other ways to provide the same facilities for students — such as sharing with another district.

However, some superintendents have pointed out that the state has yet to do enough to make the prospect of merger or enhanced sharing beneficial. Some districts have investigated merger and found that one or the other would wind up with a massive tax increase. That immediately eliminates merger from consideration, since it would have to be passed by the voters of each district.

In the North Country, Moriah and Ticonderoga are currently actively looking at ways to cooperate for the benefit of taxpayers, including possibly a merger. It could turn out that, as in other areas of the state, merger does not emerge as the best answer for each of those districts.

But the indications coming out of Albany seem to portend that ever greater incentives to merge will be offered. The Regents understand what school districts are increasingly up against. They seem to be driven to provide new levels of enhancements to make cooperation of every kind more attractive.