Friday, March 2, 2012


First, a little history.

New York State has five kinds of school districts: Common, Central, Union Free, City, and Central High School. Ithaca is a small city district. All the others in our BOCES region are central school districts. In 1870, New York State had 11,372 school districts. Over the years, those dwindled through consolidation or annexation, with large consolidations happening in the 1930s and 1940s, until now there are just under 700 districts in all.

Governor Cuomo established a commission to look into consolidation of services across the board, and one of their mandates was to look specifically at schools. They established a pot of money to add incentive to districts and municipalities that might be thinking about merging.

Mergers may take place in five ways: centralization, annexation of a central school district, annexation of a union free school district, consolidation with a union free or common school district, or consolidation with a city school district.

Ithaca City School District is moving to annex Newfield Central School District. This is essentially a hostile takeover. Here's how it works, as I understand it: The districts must be contiguous. The district being annexed is dissolved, and all of it becomes part of the annexing district. Ithaca initiates the study and proves the benefits. Newfield may request a referendum and vote to approve or disapprove. If the vote is no, Ithaca can come back in a year. If that vote is no, the annexation is tabled. If the vote is yes, or if Newfield fails to request a vote in time, Ithaca walks away with $70 million in incentive money.

So why would Newfield vote to do this when (1) they lose their identity, (2) staff lose their jobs, and (3) their kids spend potentially 1+ hours on a bus? Well, it is certainly possible that Ithaca can prove that (1) Newfield residents' taxes will go down, (2) children's opportunities will increase, and (3) any staff retained will get a raise in pay to equalize them with Ithaca staff. In addition, like most small NYS school districts, Newfield faces potential bankruptcy within two or three years.

Interestingly, I can't find a piece of SED law that enables city school districts to annex central school districts. It may be that Ithaca's decision to vote on its own budget takes it out of the city realm, or it may be that they fall into some nebulous category, or it may be that the governor's push to consolidate bends the original rules. All I know is that the decision has been made to pursue this, and the clock is ticking. It will be an interesting spring.


Anonymous said...

The Ithaca City School District is technically misnamed. It should be the Enlarged Ithaca City School District because its 155 square miles include far more than the City. NY favors consolidation, but at the same time the Charter School Act allows some new schools like New Roots to pull kids out of consolidated districts. In any consolidation, the smaller district loses autonomy and local control. Newfield, on a shoestring has done a creditable educational job. ICSD is already too big, swallowing Newfield is not a good idea. For Newfield, I wouldn't recommend it.

Henry S. Kramer
Member ICSD Board of Education

KAZ said...

Thanks for the clarification. So maybe Enlarged School Districts are allowed to annex? School law is not clear on that. I agree about its not being a good idea. Only the opening salvos have been fired, though; it may or may not proceed, according to what I heard today. We will have to wait and see.