Merger study aims for $1.2 million saved, few employees lost in Fort Edward school merger

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FORT EDWARD, N.Y. (NEWS10) – For Fort Edward Central School District, finding a way to avoid financial catastrophe has been a long way coming, with some miles still to go. Last week, consultants mapped out the financial and employment future of the district should it go forward with a merger with South Glens Falls Central School District.

Alan Pole, a consultant from the firm Castallo & Silky, led representatives from both districts and communities through a presentation last week on what the merger’s impact would be on teaching positions from both districts. His main point of messaging: Carrying over as many Fort Edward employees as possible, while saving around $1.2 million in the process.

“There’s a high, high, high probability that nobody in either of these two districts is going to lose their job,” Pole said.

A big part of the plan comes down to attrition, which refers to the process of teachers retiring or leaving positions voluntarily. Data gathered showed that on average, around 12 teachers per year have retired or otherwise left Fort Edward voluntarily since 2015.

Superintendent Kristine Orr of South Glens Falls said that her district projected six to eight retirees every year for the next three years, based on info faculty have given ahead of time.

As Fort Edward’s 44 teachers merge with 265 at South Glens Falls, there would be an opportunity to consolidate classes and sections.

Two elementary teachers could be removed, to the tune of $111,132 saved per person. Seven secondary education teachers could be cut at the same cost, with the reduction and combination of some English, math, science and social studies classes.

One superintendent post would also have to go. All Fort Edward employees entering the South Glens Falls school system would be factored into that district’s current wave of teacher contracts, which last until summer 2025. Fort Edward Superintendent Dan Ward would be allowed to hang on until then if he so chose, but his position would be eliminated due to redundancy whenever he left, which would save another $198,382.

Getting the teachers a seat at the table

On the flipside of those savings, leveling them down to that clean $1.2 million are the costs of adjusting pay for the teachers coming over from Fort Edward.

Pole showed average teacher salaries at both schools; $70,718 for Fort Edward, and $77,627 for South Glens Falls. Assuming the majority of those teachers came to South Glens Falls, some would be taking newly-formed positions to accommodate the increased student body, while others would be filling in roles left by retiring or leaving South Glens Falls teachers.

The estimated total cost of getting those teachers on the same pay rate as existing South Glens Falls teachers came out to $279,695.

Both districts design those rates around an individual’s level of education upon entering a job, plus the amount of time they have spent with the district.

Other accommodations will come as they may, too. One point that Pole called out as “unusual” was a dip of $500 in all base salaries at the school for the 2020-21 school year, which came to offset a contingency budget adopted after Fort Edward residents voted down a budget that would have supported extracurricular activities and sports.

That change in finances is part of what led Fort Edward to first consider a merger study to begin with.

John Boucher of the village of Fort Edward voiced concern with how much this process would do for his home district, especially when looking at the projected attrition numbers. He suggested that not as many Fort Edward teachers would be able to fill South Glens Falls roles as had been projected.

“One teacher retiring does not allow three to be hired,” he said. “The math doesn’t work out.”

Pole said that he agreed that there was no way to go position by position and guarantee everything exactly. However, he pointed to the official statement of assurances issued for the merger study, which outlines the use of attrition only as a way to get in those faculty members who would not have new positions created by the influx of more students in South Glens Falls; not for all 44 teachers.

“Some of those positions we automatically have to fill,” Kristine Orr pointed out; “let’s use the middle school as an example. In order to bring the middle school students over, the staffing right now at South Glens Falls doesn’t warrant that, so some of the teachers from Fort Edward would automatically go into positions.”

More ground to cover

Another point of concern brought up at the presentation was the matter of where these students would be learning, as well as how to get to and fro.

If the merger took place, Fort Edward’s current K-12 building would become a K-5 building, servicing students in those grades living in Fort Edward. All other students would go to South Glens Falls’ middle and high schools.

In small group discussions after the meeting’s main presentation, South Glens Falls High School Principal Pete Mody said his group brought up that the Fort Edward school building was used by the community in many ways, and that community members had raised concerns about its future.

He also brought up the added distance school buses would have to travel if adding Fort Edward to a bubble that already includes South Glens Falls and Moreau.

“How enjoyable riding a school bus for an hour in May can be for everybody,” he said.

The transport issue has layers. Fort Edward leases out their school buses, while South Glens Falls owns theirs. One suggestion from consultants was that South Glens Falls buy the Fort Edward buses.

With the survival of sports and other extracurricular activities a key part of the decision to pursue the study at all, another problem is that South Glens Falls currently doesn’t offer transportation to and from extracurricular activities. Pole said that changes on that front would have to come down to the district.

More to study

Last week’s merger meeting was the fourth of six planned meetings. The next two are set for Feb. 22 and April 12, and more information can be found on the official merger website. That last meeting will be the review for the merger study draft.

The merger, as the study lays it out, would go into effect on July 1, 2022.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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