Fort Edward residents present school board with 61-page anti-merger petition

Washington County

FORT EDWARD, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Monday night, the ongoing swell of opposition to the merger study between Fort Edward and South Glens Falls school districts reached a new level.

At a meeting of the Fort Edward school board, village resident Chris Boucher came to the podium with some choice words, and 61 pages of names.

“Drive around the streets of Fort Edward and acknowledge the signs,” said Boucher. “The signs that read, ‘We support Fort Edward school.'”

Boucher presented that support on Monday in the form of 726 signatures, each one from a village resident opposing the plan to annex Fort Edward Union Free School District into South Glens Falls Central School District.

The plan would see the current Fort Edward school building continue use for elementary- and middle-school education, with students then transitioned to enrollment at South High.

At the meeting, which can be found in full online, Boucher recounted presenting a previous petition to the board in July. That petition, which had been created digitally, featured over 500 names, including Fort Edward alumni and other supporters.

“(School board President Thomas Roche’s) exact words were ‘Bring us something from the village residents and that will actually mean something,'” Boucher said at the meeting. Well, here’s your information. 61 pages of information.”

The petition was provided to a News 10 ABC reporter by Boucher on Wednesday, along with a statement focusing in large part on the difference between the petition’s numbers and some others.

“The Board began the process in response to 265 survey responses that requested more information.  There were 1400 surveys sent out,” Boucher said. “With this petition, we have given the Board 726 no votes to the annexation and those were just the ones we could get to. This far surpasses any Yes or No vote total at any Fort Edward School election in recent history.”

On Thursday, school board president Thomas Roche spoke to News 10 ABC, and said he appreciated the efforts that Boucher and others went to in getting the petition together.

He emphasized the fact that the current discussions being had around the merger are all leading to the decision of whether to put the matter to a public vote.

“If we don’t put it out to the public, and voters rights to be heard are suppressed, I fear that future budgets may have some difficulty, because people may say ‘Wait a minute here, you didn’t let me vote on this.'”

Roche said that he understands that many community members fear seeing their school community threatens, but worries some may not understand that the issue is ultimately financial.

On Monday night’s meeting, other community members in attendance applauded and cheered as Boucher finished speaking.

He wasn’t the only one there, either. Several residents spoke in the first half hour of the meeting, testifying to the advantages of smaller class sizes, which they see students losing should the merger go through.

One fellow school graduate, Kathleen Hunt, led those in attendance in singing Fort Edward’s school song, in a show of school spirit.

Monday night wasn’t the first time of late that public disagreement with the merger plan has been amplified. Last month’s board meeting saw a crowd of residents take up a similar presence at the board’s monthly meeting.

Parents there spoke out against the idea that merging would grant their students more opportunities than the financially beleaguered Fort Edward district can offer. Instead, several parents said, they worried their kids would be lost in the crowd.

The merger was recently approved by the New York State Department of Education, after extensive work put in by both districts.

Fort Edward and South Glens Falls have both seen steady enrollment decline over the last six years. In 2020, the village of Fort Edward rejected two school budgets that would lead to higher taxes, a choice that resulted in a loss of sports programs and some teaching positions.

Part of the merger study has included assurances that almost no staff would be cut should the merger go through.

The merger would also make the newly-unified district eligible for $6 million in new financial aid funds.

On Thursday, Roche said that the future may hold more budgets that shrink and cut programs, if the merger doesn’t happen. Things have financially improved through work with financial programs.

But, in the merger analysis process, the school has seen projections of what the next five years look like should the merger fail.

“I believe we will need a supermajority budget, which means we need 60 percent of our community to come out in support of that budget. And I do worry.”

Sherry Genier, a 20-year district employee, said she worried that the system of community support within Fort Edward would suffer if kids were not kept among their peers, citing times when kids and families had supported each other with everything from transportation to getting new clothes.

Resident Erica Adams told the story of her journey away from Fort Edward, to a larger high school, only to then choose to return to her home district because that was where she wanted her kids to go to school.

“I wanted it to feel like home to them as much as it had to me,” she said.

She recounted how, when her husband, a basketball coach at the school, suddenly passed away, the students on the team created a memorial basketball that now sits on her mantle to this day.

“That’s the way life is supposed to be. Caring for your neighbors, looking out for someone simply because you live in the same village.”

In response to community concerns, Fort Edward and South Glens Falls are holding an informational meeting on Sept. 22. Information on where it will be held is forthcoming on the merger website.

In response to a News 10 request for comment, South Glens Falls Central School District Communications Director Kerry McAvoy-Minor pointed to the Sept. 22 session.

As for the merger votes, the schools will vote on Oct. 6 on whether to send the topic to the public. If they do, Fort Edward residents will at last cast their own votes on Nov. 17.

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

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