Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beyond Core Courses: Other Classroom Advantages for Students

As noted in an earlier post on core courses, the most important part of the whole merger discussion is the students, and the increased opportunities that they will have in a merged district. The earlier post pointed out how among the core courses (meaning courses in either English, Math, Science or Social Studies) students in the current districts could see between 20 and 40 new course offerings to them when the districts merge. Of course it's NOT just about improvements and increases in the four main subjects one typically thinks of when you attend school. It's also about things like music, and the arts, as well as technology and languages.

Below are several graphics that show the potential increase in course offerings in these areas that students will also have once the districts merge. Many of these are from programs that have been cut or reduced. They now stand to be resurrected when the districts unite and pool their resources more efficiently and effectively.

Click on any of the graphics to see how current students in Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk will fare in new course offerings in these academic areas.

Number of New Language Courses

Number of New Music and Art Courses

Number of New Technology Courses

QUESTION: How will the New District Look Administratively and Will it Cost More ?

How will the new district look administratively ? And will the cost of the administrative positions be higher in the merged district ?

Some people have wondered if the administrative positions will balloon in the merged district and take up more of the budget. The study doesn't propose this at all.Currently the average cost of an administrative position in the three districts combined is about $124,500. This is the current average salary for certified administrators for the school buildings and certified administrators with central district-wide responsibilities.

Presently there are 16.5 such positions in three districts. In the merged district the study proposes 1.5 fewer certified administrative positions for a total of 15 in the new configurations. Based on the average salary of those positions this represents a savings of nearly $190,000 for the district taxpayers !

So the new district will be smaller administratively, and cost less.

If you have other questions about the study please let us know !

Monday, May 28, 2012

QUESTION: How Will My School Taxes Change When the Three Districts Merge?

 How will school taxes be impacted by the merge of the three districts?

Tax levies are a difficult thing to sometimes understand. Probably the easiest way to think about them is talking about how much you would pay in taxes on a house worth $100,000 depending on which district you presently live in. We can then compare that to how much you would pay for the same house in a merged district.

According to the analysis of the study, if you presently live in the Herkimer School District you pay about $2051 in school taxes on a home worth $100,000. Homeowners in the Mohawk School District pay about $2108 for that same house in school taxes. Ilion homeowners pay about $1732 in school taxes for a house valued at $100,000.

In a merged district, the proposed budget has been structured to take advantage of the $59 million in new incentive aid and help keep property taxes under control. Given that the Ilion District has the lowest tax rates, the basic levy of the new district would be such that all taxpayers would pay no more than what Ilion District residents presently do. Hence, the tax rates in the Mohawk and Herkimer districts would be reduced such that all taxpayers of the newly merged district now would pay about $1732 in school taxes for a home worth $100,000.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Look at the Start and End of Days in the New District with the Three Existing Districts

Below is a graphic that shows what the start and end times to school days would look like for our K through 6 graders, 7th and 8th graders, and our senior high students in a merged district as compared to the current districts. Each of these three categories of students is presented side by side so you can look across the graph and see how each group's day (K through 6th graders, 7th and 8th graders, and 9th through 12th graders) would be in in a merged district in comparison to the three districts as they are now configured.

Click on the figure below to see a full sized view of the contents.

Start and End Times for Students Currently and in Merged District

QUESTION:How Do Current Enrollments And Building Capacities Match Up Among Our Elementary Schools Right Now?

Recently a question came up about the extent to which the elementary school buildings currently being utilized are at capacity. It was suggested that the buildings are already at capacity. This is not the case.

NOTE: The enrollments listed here are the CURRENT ones, which include 5th and 6th graders. In a merged district, those two grades would not be part of the elementary population. 

That being said, among the 4 elementary schools, Herkimer has the largest capacity, at 800 pupils. However their actual enrollment is about 630 students. Ilion's two elementary schools have a total capacity of 1114 pupils, but their enrollments are at 827. The Fisher Elementary School has a capacity of 578, but only has an enrollment of 418.

All in all, each of the districts elementary schools (including 5th and 6th grade students) are being utilized at between 72% and 78%.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

QUESTION: Are Class Sizes Being Increased To Accommodate the Merger?

Are the number of students in classrooms being increased in order to accommodate this merger?

In every practical sense - NO. With a VERY minor exception.

At present each district establishes it class room sizes by grade through contract language and Board of Education policy. The superintendents report that each district currently tries to achieve the following class section sizes as a best practice in serving the pupils and in utilizing the skill sets of the teachers at each grade level:
  • Pre-Kindergarten: 18 pupils per class section
  • Kindergarten and grade 1: 20 pupils per class section
  • Grades 2 and 3: 22 pupils per class section
  • Grade 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8: 24 pupils per class section
  • Grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 (core subjects): 25 pupils per class section
 The Study document for the merger cites the following as the goals of the class room sizes:
  • Kindergarten and grade 1: 20 pupils per class section
  • Grades 2 and 3: 22 pupils per class section
  • Grades 4, 5, and 6: 24 pupils per class section
  • Grades 7-12: 25 pupils per class section
The only difference would be that in the newly merged district 7th and 8th graders would be in classes where the pupils per classroom could increase by 1, from 24 to 25 pupils per class section. THAT IS THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IN CLASS ROOM SIZES BEING CONSIDERED.

So overall the planned merger contains no real differences in class sizes.

If you have other questions about the study please contact the friendsofthemerge@hotmail.com

QUESTION: Does Barringer Road Have the Capacity to Handle the Combined K-4 Enrollment of Ilion?

Does Barringer Road Elementary School have the capacity to handle the K-4 student population of Ilion now and in the future?

The short answer is that Barringer Road should be able to handle the current enrollment, as well as the future enrollment, of the district. In the study the CONSERVATIVE capacity of Barringer Elementary was estimated at 584 students. In reality the actual capacity is about 10% higher than that according to the Study Team. That would mean a true assessment of the capacity of the building is about 642 students.

This "lowering" of the capacity level by 10% as part of the study document is done as a way to provide the most conservative estimate possible. That way districts can have some leeway in their planning - which is exactly what has occurred here. So in reality the building at Barringer Road can handle about 10% more than the 584 capacity cited in the study, which translates into around 640 kids.

So is this true capacity of Barringer a problem? Current enrollment for the next year for K-4 in Ilion is 594 pupils. Projection models vary widely in terms of how many students will be in Ilion in 5 years (2016-2017). It could be as low as 504 pupils, and possibly as high as 632. In both cases these numbers are still under the maximum capacity of the building.

There is another factor which can be brought to bear on any potential crowding in the elementary school in Ilion in a merger as well. Some parents who border on the current district with Mohawk could be given the option of sending their children to Fisher Elementary School. In some cases parents might do so because it is actually closer and represents less travel time for their young children. They also may way to take advantage of the program at Fisher. At any rate, some parents may chose to actually have their children attend the elementary program in Mohawk instead of going to Ilion's Barringer Road.

Our understanding is that NO ONE would be forced to change schools. This would be a voluntary move on the part of parents and something that they would be given a chance to contemplate.

Lastly, and just as a matter of consideration, the Ilion School District has been discussing the possibility closing Remington Elementary School for some time now. Regardless of whether or not a merger occurs, Remington School has been considered for closure. So it seems reasonable to conclude that Barringer Road, as an facility, may well be the only elementary school in Ilion at some point in the not-so-distant future regardless of a where or not a merger takes place. In the event that a merger does occur, then the options noted above become possible. In the case that a merger does not happen, then the district may be looking to shuffle building configurations within Ilion to something different than they are now.

So hopefully this provides some insight into what the true capacity is of Barringer Road.

Access to More Core Courses Through the Three District Merger

Too often in the process of looking at the challenges and opportunities of merging school districts the focus is on only the money – be it the incentive aid offered by the State, the tax levies affected by the combining of districts or the savings offered by the consolidation of services and personnel.  

Lost in the discussion can be the most important part of any merge – the students of the districts. While there are lots of issues important to our students, one that we heard a lot about during the attempt to merge Herkimer, Ilion, Mohawk and Frankfort was about specific courses that might be available if the districts joined together.

The most recent study involving only Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk actually has supplied a listing of classes presently taught in the three districts. This allows a cross comparison of the specific courses that can be offered in a merged school district. The study team reviewed courses in all three schools and determined the degree to which courses matched up between districts. It was then possible to see what courses any given district doesn’t presently offer but could be offered through a merger, since personnel and course plans would already be in place.

Based on this cross referencing, it is now possible to see what new types of courses students from the existing districts will have available to them in the new merged district. An earlier post on this blog actually has a partial listing of specific courses that students in the current districts would have available when the merger takes place.

Below are some graphics to help get a better sense of the impact of these new offerings for students just in terms of core subject areas – namely English, Math, Science and Social Studies. These are the types of courses that often are the most important in preparing students for the rigors of college.

In the end, as you can also see, students from each of the three districts stand to gain access to a considerably greater number of core courses than they have now. Students from Ilion would have access to nearly 20 new courses just among core subjects; Herkimer students would see a total of almost 30 new course offerings in English, Math, Science and Social Studies; and students from Mohawk could have access to more than 40 new core subject courses !

Click on any of the graphics below to see how access to new courses in each of the core subjects impacts students from your district !

Number of New English Classes

Number of New Math Classes

Number of New Science Classes

Number of New Social Studies Classes

Total Increase in New Core Courses For Students

QUESTION: Do I Have To Vote AGAIN For the Merger to Take Place?

I cast a vote in the straw vote for the four-district merger in January.  Do I need to vote again for this three-district merger?

Answer:  Yes!  Your previous vote does not carry over for THIS merger vote.  The straw vote for the three-district merger will take place on Wednesday, September 12.  The purpose of this non-binding vote is to see if there is enough support, or not, for the idea of a merge between our districts.  If each of the three communities vote in favor of the merger, the final binding referendum will be held on Thursday, October 18.  
Remember that you must vote again in the final referendum in order for your vote to count!  The vote you cast in the straw vote in September does NOT count again in the final vote. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

QUESTION: What are the chances that the NYS Incentive Aid will be cut once we merge?

What are the chances that the incentive aid that the State of New York provides to districts will be cut or reduced once a merger of the three districts takes place ? 

While no one can predict the future, certainly we can look at the past and see how many times this has ever happened to get a sense of what the chances are it will happen to us now. State incentive aid has been around since the 1920s for districts that chose to merge. In the early 1980's the incentive aid actually doubled for districts that went through with a merger. Since 1983,  33 merged districts have been created, and all received state incentive aid.  


So it seems pretty clear given the history of this specific aid, and given the increase in state monies for studying mergers, that the incentive funds that would be allocated to the Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk School District will in fact be there for the entire period of time they are supposed to be, and in the full amount.

Monday, May 21, 2012

QUESTION: What will the $59 million in State Incentive Aid be used for?

 What will the incentive aid be used for and what will happen when it is gone after year 14 (or after 2026)?

Primarily the money will be used in order to accomplish four goals - reestablish fiscally strong reserved funds for the new district; enable the first year of the transportation portion of the merger plan to go forward with no new impacts; pay down some of the debt that the new district will inherit from the three old districts; and reduce the tax levy that comes with assimilating the three districts into one.

Before talking about each of those, it is important to recognize that State Incentive Aid is often a driving force in deciding whether or not to vote for a merger. In the case of the Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk (H.I.M.) merger, almost $59 million are projected to be available in incentive monies for the new district. This money is paid out at a flat rate for five years, then at year six begins to be reduced annually by roughly $400,000 for each of the next nine years.

So how will the four goals mentioned above be accomplished? 

  1.  Reserve Funds - Roughly $10 million dollars will be placed into the reserve fund of the H.I.M Schools over the 14 years that incentive aid comes to the district. This money will basically come (other than the first year) at a clip of $1.2 million for 4 years then a declining balance each year after that up until 2026. 
  2. Aid to Transportation - For the first year of the merge only, about $784,000 will be used to address any first year costs to establishing the new transportation plan for the district. 
  3. Debt Reduction of New District - $1 Million a year, for the first 10 years will be used to pay outstanding debt of the new district. While the total debt of the district is far greater than $10 million, any reduction of this debt helps free more money toward other costs in the district. 
  4. Reduction of the Tax Levy - $4 million will be used annually for the first 5 years to keep tax levies at or below current amounts for residents of all three current districts. This will then be reduced proportionately over the next 9 years.

So what happens when the money from state aid is gone in 14 years? There are several things that should help to ease the transition from having this state incentive aid to NOT having it. First, more than $10 million will have been placed in reserve. Part of those monies could be used to continue to help mediate the tax levies to some extent. Second, as the district begins to gel, undoubtedly there will be savings due to improved coordination and efficiencies. Third, there are already savings built into the present plan, through efficiencies in teaching and class sizes etc.

But more importantly that any of those, is that we, as voters, have the right and the obligation to hold the new Board of Education of the H.I.M. District responsible for properly maintaining the interests of all of those that pay taxes. So IF for some reason when the 14 years of incentive money is depleted we are not in a fiscally sound environment, we can and should hold those on the H.I.M. Board of Education responsible.

If you have other questions or comments please let us know at friendsofthemerge@hotmail.com !

Sunday, May 20, 2012

QUESTION: What Will Be The Building Configuration Of the New District?

Given that Frankfort Schuyler is no longer part of the merger discussion, what will the new district look like in terms of buildings in operation?

This is a common question many of the Friends of the Three District Merge have heard many times. There are some small changes but pretty much the same configuration would be in place that was proposed earlier.

  • Elementary Schools would remain open in each district, and would now serve pre-K through 4th grade. The Remington Elementary School in Ilion would be closed, or at least no longer house students.While closing a school is not an easy thing, the Board of Education in Ilion has discussed reconfiguring their elementary program for some time now, and one of the options includes closing Remington. So the merger plan reflects that in some ways. Other than Remington, all other elementary schools will remain open and house lower grades as noted above. 
  • An Upper Elementary School would be housed at the Jarvis School in Mohawk. This would be for 5th and 6th grade students. By bringing together ALL of the new district's students at a relatively  young age, they can begin to develop a sense of unity and community. In addition, it was felt that 5th and 6th grade students would be better prepared to be exposed to new and exciting course work that would be offered in the new district, such as foreign languages. Socially, educationally, and administratively this was seen as a great opportunity to bring together the new district's kids for the first time in a one school setting.
  • A Middle School would be established at the Herkimer High School. This would be for all 7th and 8th graders. Students would continue to experience new course offerings and develop a sense of community as they prepare for entry into the high school. It would also be possible for them to take advantage of the swimming pool.
  • The High School would be established at the current Ilion High School complex. It would include 9th through 12th graders.

This will be the basic configuration of the new district ! If you have other questions about the merger, please contact the Friends of the Merge at friendsofthemerge@hotmail.com !

Saturday, May 19, 2012

QUESTION: Will Ilion Elementary Kids Have to Go to Mohawk?

Recently a question came up about whether Ilion Elementary school kids would be forced to go to Fisher Elementary in Mohawk as part of the merge of the three districts?  The answer is NO.

The question hinges on the idea that with the closing of Remington Elementary as part of the Merge Plan that Barringer Road wouldn't have enough space to accommodate grades K through 4.

Several things need to be pointed out.

  • The projected enrollments are VERY conservative, which is to say that they represent a high estimate of the number of kids, and a low estimate of the amount of space. This was done purposefully for just such a situation. So while it might be close in numbers for putting all K through 4 in Barringer, it is not impossible. 
  • Our district population IS declining in numbers. Cornell University projects a decline in our population through the year 2030. So space should, over the long run, become more available at all the schools, including our elementary schools.
  • The Ilion School District is looking at changing and restructuring their district elementary schools REGARDLESS of the merge. One of those options appears to include closing Remington. So the planned merger is actually only doing something that already is likely to be occurring on some level in the not-so-distant future.
  • No district lines for elementary school are being changed in the proposed plan. Some PARENTS, however, may choose, if they live in close proximity to one of the other elementary school boundaries, to have their child attend one of the other schools. So for example, parents with children in elementary school in Ilion, that live close Mohawk may ask that their child attend Fisher Elementary School. The CHOICE is up to the PARENTS !
Hopefully this answers a question posed to the Friends of the Merge. If you have a question you'd like answered, please send us an email at friendsofthemerge@hotmail.com.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Potential Courses Offered In The New District

While no one can guarantee that specific courses will be offered each semester after the three districts merge, a look at the current courses offered in each of the three districts suggests a LARGE number of new classroom opportunities that might be available for students that never were before in their home districts.

For example, here is a sample of courses that students currently in school in Mohawk might have access to that they didn't before. These are currently offered in either Ilion or Herkimer but not in Mohawk.

  • Mohawk: English Honors Programs; College Now English Program; Creative Writing; Global Studies Honors Program; College Now American History; Psychology; Civil War Studies; AP World History; Sociology; Extended Algebra Series; Geometry Honors; Trigonometry; College Now Calculus; Statistics; Science Honors Program; Environmental Science; Astronomy; Anatomy and Physiology; AP Biology; Geology; French; Chinese Language; Music Theory College Now; Orchestra; Beginning and Advanced Guitar; Piano Keyboard; Art History; Photography; Advanced Art; Commercial Art; Computer Apps; Desktop Publishing and Web Design; Parenting; Clothing and Fashion; Housing and Interior Design; Architectural Drafting; Principles of Engineering; Robotics; Women’s Health; Hawaiian Studies Course

For students from Herkimer, there are also a lot of new classroom opportunities with the newly formed district. Based on courses offered by the programs in Ilion and Mohawk, these are some of the new offerings high schoolers from Herkimer would be able to now consider taking !

  • Herkimer: English Honors Programs (10 and 11); AP English; Global Studies II Honors Program; College Now American History; Military History; Extended Algebra Series; Geometry Honors; Intermediate and Honors Trigonometry; AP Calculus; Chemistry Honors Program; Physics Honors Program; AP Biology; Music Theory College Now; Hawaiian Studies Course; Geology; French; Chinese Language; Orchestra; Photography; Advanced Art program; Desktop Publishing and Web Design; Electricity; Material Processing; Robotics; 

Current Ilion students would also have some new course offering that otherwise they would never have access to! Classes that are presently available in either Herkimer or Mohawk that now could be available in the new district to former Ilion students would include:

  • Ilion: Journalism; Creative Writing; Rock and Roll Studies; College Now Psychology; Military History; AP World History; Sociology; The Holocaust; Astronomy; College Now Trigonometry; French Language Series; Beginning and Advanced Guitar; Drawing; Painting; Ceramics; Sculpture; Art History; Business Communications; Accounting; Clothing and Fashion Design II; Electricity; Material Processing; Computer Aided Design; Principles of Engineering; Production Systems; Women’s Health

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but a sample of types of new courses that students from the current districts could have available to them in when the three join together ! These represent an increase in the quality and value of the educational opportunities that all of our children will have after the merge.

The Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk District Compared to Surrounding Districts

The map below shows what the new Herkimer-Ilion-Mohawk merged district would look like as it sits among other districts of the southern part of Herkimer County. As you can see, physically it looks relatively similar to those in the surrounding area. When compared to the 10 districts that would make up the southern part of the county if the merge were too take place, physically the district would be the 4th smallest !

Six other school districts would actually be larger than the new H.I.M. District Poland (459 sq mi), Dolgeville (176 sq mi), West Canada Valley (107 sq mi), Mount Markham (96 sq mi), Richfield Springs (88 sq mi), and Oppenheim Euphrata (84 sq mi) would all be larger.

So as you can see, the new district will be a very manageable one from the standpoint of its size. Click on the map to see a larger version of it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Friends of The Three District Merge

Welcome to the Friends of the Three District Merge Blog ! The purpose of this blog is three fold.

First, we want to be sure to provide accurate data to those who wish to know more about the proposed merge of the Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk (H.I.M.) School Districts. Too often the data that is tossed around is either incorrect or out and out false. Our primary goal is to get information to the public about the merge that is factual and helps them understand the dynamics of joining the three districts as one.

Second, we are an advocacy group. We admit that up front. We have examined the data, many of us for almost a year and a half, and we feel strongly that merging the three districts together will offer our children, and future generations, the best educational opportunities. Our present situation is unacceptable, and the future without a merge looks even more bleak. So we do support merging the H.I.M districts into one for the benefit of our current and future students.

Third, we want to build a sense of community among the districts. Our differences are far less than our similarities. But we believe the strength of a new district lies in those differences. Each community has unique strengths that they can bring to the new merged district that will make ALL of us better students, better faculty and better communities.

So join us and visit often as we move toward the September 12th vote ! We will be happy to answer ANY questions you have as we make this journey and will do our best to provide accurate and timely information that can help you as you consider this important step in our children's and our communities' futures.