Hamilton Central and Morrisville Consider Merging

Matthew Knowles

Due to dramatic cutbacks in state funding for public schools since 2008, Hamilton Central School Dis-trict and Morrisville-Eaton Central Schools District are now in the pro-cess of studying the potential benefits of a merger. The merger would entail anything from a full district merger, only merging specific programs or anything in between. Although ac-tion may be more imperative for Morrisville-Eaton, a district that has had its budget cut by 20 percent since 2008 and lost all of its eight Advanced Placement classes, both districts view change as necessary. However, at this point, nothing is certain and nothing is being ruled out.

“At this point, nothing is be-ing proposed,” Hamilton Central School District Superintendent Dr. Diana Bowers said. “We learn-ing a bit about each other, we are learning about the characteristics of each district, and we are going to take all of that information and determine whether or not there is interest in going forward to discuss the potential of a merger.”

This conversation began about two years ago, but then the discus-sion included not only the Hamil-ton and Morrisville-Eaton districts, but also Stockbridge Valley and Madison Central School Districts. As talks progressed between the dis-tricts, though, it became clear that Hamilton and Morrisville-Eaton had the most to be gained by merg-ing solely with each other. This is because the two districts have tax-on-true rates that are more similar to one another than to Stockbridge Valley or Madison. The tax-on-true rate is the number of dollars one pays per 1,000 dollars of assessed value on one’s home.

“If you have divergent tax-on-trues when you go into a merger, on district will have taxes get lowered and one district will have them get raised… If we merged with Morrisville-Eaton, they will both go down. So the tax structure has driven the con-versation to go in a certain way,” Bowers said.

As might have been expected, not all of the residents of the two districts are very excited to hear about the possibility of the merger. In fact, many of the parents were distressed to hear that a study was taking place at all. De-spite that, the Superintendent of Morrisville- Eaton thinks that they are coming around to the idea.

“I think a lot of the original anxiety and concern has been alleviated. People are start-ing to realize that just because we’re doing this study doesn’t mean that we’re deciding ahead of time that a merger is the best op-tion,” Morrisville-Eaton Superintendent Mi-chael Drahos said. “When we first began to look at it there was a lot of distrust.”

Even if a full merger does not occur, Drahos believes that both districts can gain much by sharing specific extracurricular and academic programs.

“Hamilton [Future Farmers of America] program is something that we don’t have that we’d like, our marching program has been much more robust in terms of option,” Drahos said. “Hamilton has been able to preserve their language classes: French, Latin and Spanish. Right now we’ve had to cut our French program so we would love to be able to offer French and Latin.”

Hamilton and Morrisville Central School Districts have already started to combine their sports teams, seemingly to great effect. They have taken the Hamil-ton Emerald Knights and the Morrisville- Eaton Warriors and created mixed teams called the Hamilton/Morrisville-Eaton Emerald Warriors.

“The kids seem to just love it. The foot-ball team has won four in a row now which is the longest streak they’ve had in a long time,” Drahos said. “The kids are pushing harder for doing things to unify them than sometimes the adults are willing to do. It’s almost ironic.”

The study will be completed later this spring, at which point the committee will propose a course of action. That proposal will be put up for a vote in both com-munities. If both communities vote the proposal up, it will go off to Albany for review. Bowers believes that it is necessary to find a solution quickly before more cuts are made to their budgets.

“There are no expendable kids,” Bowers said. “So we need to figure this out before it hits.”

Contact Matthew Knowles at [email protected]