Move school merger forward

"Doing things differently" is a phrase that's often uttered with ease by local taxing authorities, but actually implementing change can be much more difficult. Residents of the Mayfield and Northville school districts have a choice Tuesday: make change happen, or keep things the same.

A straw vote will take place to determine whether the school districts should merge. If it passes, a binding referendum vote will take place in October to make the merger final. We believe voters should move the proposal to October's vote, and we believe the merger should be approved.

It's not easy running a school district these days, especially in rural areas where increasing costs combined with losses in state aid, more unfunded state mandates, and declining enrollment have resulted in property tax payers paying way more for way less. The Mayfield and Northville districts have been especially hit hard during the past two years after the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes on land around the Great Sacandaga Lake.

Merging the two districts makes sense. The bottom line is if Mayfield and Northville are combined, property taxes would drop in both districts, and rates would be the same. In addition, the newly merged district would receive an infusion of $19 million in aid in the next 14 years, and if the new district leaders don't squander the funds and properly plan for the future, there shouldn't be any major impact on taxpayers when the aid runs out.

In addition, a newly combined district would be able to restore classes and extracurricular programs that have been cut due to financial difficulties. While no student will be guaranteed a place at the table, especially when it comes to sports (not that it should be a guarantee anyway), young people will have more opportunities to compete because more programs will be offered.

That's way better than the situation both districts are in now. Mayfield is projecting an $800,000 deficit in the 2013-14 budget and a $1.3 million gap the following year. Northville's budget hole could top $1 million in 2013-14, a number that could increase to $1.5 million in 2014-15. Combine that with the more than $7 million in state aid reductions to the schools in the past three years, the only place the schools have to turn to cover their deficits is the property tax payer, and they simply can't afford to make up the shortfall.

Yes, it would be nice if every community in New York state could have a school of their own, but the reality no longer allows that to be a feasible option. Officials in Mayfield and Northville have come up with a plan that will not only save taxpayers money down the road, but it will also restore programs and activities that help students get the best education possible. Isn't that what public schools are supposed to be about?

We realize not everyone is convinced this is the best plan for both districts, so for them, we'd encourage them to pass the straw vote anyway and move it forward to October's referendum so residents can make a final decision. The Mayfield and Northville communities deserve that chance.