Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The First Step Has Been Taken Toward District Consolidation
December 15, 2013 by Ann Wishart | No Comments

“It was time to move on this while we still had some level of control.” - Richard Wagner

Newbury Schools Board of Education bowed to the inevitable Monday night and passed a resolution that is the first step toward consolidating with neighboring Berkshire Schools.

Emotions ran high among board members and administration as a very brief resolution was read: “Approve the enclosed resolution of Newbury Local Board of Education’s intent to seek consolidation with the Berkshire Local School District.”

One by one the board members voted in favor of the motion.

It passed unanimously and without discussion.

Before the motion was made, Newbury Schools Superintendent Richard Wagner explained that the failure of a five-year, 7.1-mill emergency operating levy in November sealed the district’s fate.

Without the funds the levy would have yielded, Newbury Schools faces the same situation Ledgemont Schools has encountered — spiraling debt, insolvency and a take-over by the state.

Wagner said there have been several discussions with Berkshire Schools Superintendent Doug DeLong and his board about the possibility of combining the two districts. (Seek related story).

“It is better to consolidate than merge,” Wagner said, explaining a merger results in one district swallowing the other, which loses its identity.

Sensing the levy, presented to Newbury Township voters for a second time in two years, could fail, the administration started discussions with the State Board of Education, the Ohio Facilities Commission and the state legislature by the end of last summer, Wagner said.

“It was time to move on this while we still had some level of control,” he said Monday. “Normally this is not a quick process.”

The soonest the consolidation would be complete would be for the 2014-2015 school year, but it is more likely to be for the 2015-2016 school year, he said.

That presents financial problems that could cause difficulties with the consolidation deal.

“By October 2014, we are going to need more money than we have,” Wagner said.

The district will have to ask Newbury voters to pass a levy to provide enough funds so the district doesn’t have to borrow operating funds from the state.

Arranging a consolidation with Berkshire will be far more acceptable to the Berkshire community if Newbury is not in debt to the state — a debt the newly formed district would have to pay back. A levy to get the district to the point of consolidation without falling into the red will probably be necessary, Wagner said.

Meanwhile, Newbury Schools must continue to operate.

“Our goal is to educate our children as best we can” and maintain the current staff, he said.

A second resolution, also approved unanimously, provided up to $3,000 to have consultants from Public Finance Resources Inc. perform a financial data analysis, profile data comparison and in-depth operating cost analysis to inform and assist in the process of consolidation.

Berkshire is likely to make the same sort of resolution to help pay for the analysis that will determine if the consolidation of the two districts is fiscally feasible, Wagner said.

“I don’t know how fast this will go,” he said, adding the district has to make authentic efforts to stay afloat to satisfy the state.

The plan should be ready by the beginning of January 2014, Wagner said.

Board President John Gingerich said the next levy the Newbury board puts on the ballot will be to help sustain the district until it consolidates with Berkshire.

Ledgemont Schools went into debt and therefore is not in a position to merge or consolidate because another district would not want to take on the debt.

“We just cannot allow ourselves to be put in that position,” Gingerich said.

Part of the original plan for consolidation was to build a high school at a convenient location for both districts and large enough to accommodate those students.

Wagner said there is no likelihood of that happening soon and the construction of a new school takes about four years.

Before the board entered executive session to discuss personnel, Wagner made a further statement.

“I don’t know if there are too many schools in this country,” he said, adding taking money from public schools and sending it to charter schools and private schools “… without the slightest semblance of control … it’s absolutely appalling. It’s all I can say.”

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