300 attend school forum discussion
WATKINS GLEN—Some 300 people attended the first in a series of public forums to discuss the future of the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour school districts, Tuesday, Feb. 26.
The meeting, held in the Watkins Glen High School auditorium, was organized by the Schuyler County League of Women Voters. Both Watkins Superintendent Tom Phillips and Odessa Superintendent Jim Frame gave budget and enrollment numbers, as well as ways both districts have already cut costs. Following the presentation, the forum was opened up to the public for comments on what the districts should do. A number of residents spoke both for and against merging the two districts. Ultimately, the residents wanted more specific information and numbers tied to different options.
Todd Mertens, Watkins Glen business owner, said, “I think it’s great you want input, but I don’t think we have enough facts.” He said that as a business owner he needs to see a detailed breakdown of costs, expenses, and dollar values in the budgets. He called the presentation a “great snapshot” of the districts’ financial situations.
“I just want to know more,” said Mertens.
Jason Snow, Odessa-Montour graduate, asked for more specifics on the impacts of merging. Specifically, he wanted to know how a consolidation would affect the two districts’ different wealth designations. Frame had explained the state considered Odessa to be low wealth, while Watkins is medium wealth, based on property values. Snow also suggested examining other districts that have merged.
Jenny Lewis, Odessa-Montour teacher with a son attending Watkins Glen, asked how a merger would affect class sizes. She explained teachers have learned how to manage their current class sizes; Lewis currently has 27 children in her third grade class. She also asked how merging would affect students being able to participate in extracurricular activities like sports with limited spots.
Rob Tuttle, Odessa-Montour resident, said a merged district can create “A” and “B” teams if there are too many students. Tuttle has spoken to the Odessa school before asking the district to pursue a merge. He said merging might bring more money into the districts.
Deb Dupuy, Odessa-Montour employee and former board member, said the district has examined mergers before. She explained the board found out the savings is not great. Dupuy added the important thing is to “take in all the facts, don’t rush it.”
Bob Lee, who has served as coach at both districts, also said previous research into merging showed it wasn’t a good idea. However, he urged the districts to hold forums like this. Lee added residents of the two districts need to “stand up and say ‘enough, government.’”
“It challenges all of us to think outside of our mindset,” said Watkins Glen resident Tom Lewis.
He went on to say businesses in the private sector face the same problems as the schools every day. Lewis proposed the schools create a phased approach as to what changes will be made. He suggested looking at cutting programs, utilizing retired volunteers, private sector sponsors and employees shopping for healthcare.
Watkins student Haley DeNardo argued for a merger if it means keeping programs. She explained she probably would not have been accepted to colleges without her extracurricular activities. DeNardo said, “it cuts a student’s chances to get into college.” She added the staff cuts Watkins Glen has already made hurt because they knew those teachers.
Marcia Kasprzyk, League of Women Voters moderator, said the group will continue to facilitate open forums for the two districts. She said the superintendents will gather more information as requested and another forum will be held within the month, likely at Odessa-Montour.