Phillips expects school consolidations
SCHUYLER COUNTY—School consolidation is a concept Watkins Glen Superintendent Tom Phillips maintains is an economic reality that area schools will need to support.
The topic was brought up at the Monday, Oct. 1, Watkins Glen school board meeting. Phillips said Watkins wants to work with other districts to prepare for consolidation. He explained school districts within Schuyler County will need to merge within the next three to five years due to costs continuing to increase.
Phillips said talk about consolidation was brought up during last week’s Schuyler County League of Women Voters’ luncheon. He added many school districts across the state will be facing the same financial problems, some sooner than others. He pointed out that in the area, some districts are already merging or planning to merge: South Seneca and Romulus, Candor and Spencer-Van Etten, and other schools in the Corning and Elmira areas.
“We’d love to say, everything needs to stay the same,” Phillips said, but added that is not the reality. He also said, “it’s dangerous for a superintendent to talk this way.” If all three school districts in Schuyler consolidated (Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, and Bradford), there would theoretically only need to be one superintendent. Phillips added that consolidation would require a lot of planning and given the possibilities said “who says all of the schools have to be in Watkins Glen?” He suggested options like keeping the elementary schools where they are and having the middle school in one village and the high school in another village.
Odessa-Montour Superintendent Jim Frame was asked about consolidation and agreed that many school districts are facing financial troubles. However, he said he did not agree with Phillips’ assessment that a merger will be needed within five years. He added, “I wouldn’t say we’re on the brink of collapse.”
Frame said the school district is starting a facilities study, looking at demographics and programs over the next five years. He said once that is completed they would be able to at least have the conversation about consolidation. Frame added any decision the district makes will have to be directed by community input.
The two districts already share a cafeteria manager, technology services, and some transportation. For now though, Phillips said the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour should work together more to offer shared services that allow students access to more options. Phillips said when sports teams have low membership, the schools could offer one merged team. He used girls golf as an example. He said Watkins had four members, just enough to be a team, and Odessa had only one player. Phillips explained O-M’s girl golfer competed, but her scores did not count.
“We could split the costs and do a full-blown modified program,” he said.