Past school mergers have been successful

SANDUSKY Merging school districts is nothing new, and a primary reason it has occurred in the past w
Janet
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Merging school districts is nothing new, and a primary reason it has occurred in the past was to create sounder financial footing for districts.

The last merger in Ohio was 15 years ago, when a small school district in Mercer County on the far western side of the state at the Indiana border was eliminated. The territory it covered was redistributed into three other districts.

Mendon-Union Local merged most of its property with the surrounding district, Parkway Local. A small portion of the district was absorbed by St. Marys City and Spencerville Local in Allen County.

According to a report by the Ohio School Board Association, the push to merge the districts began in 1990 when the Ohio Department of Education conducted a feasibility study with Mendon-Union and Parkway. Mendon-Union had been struggling financially. Several cutbacks did help the district financially, but enrollment continued to decline. In January 1991, the school board took a close look at its situation: By June 1992, the district figured it would have $50,000 in debt.

In May 1991 the board put a 7.5-mill levy on the ballot, but voters rejected it.

The levy was put back on the ballot in November, and it was approved with 55 percent of the vote. The board knew it would have enough money to get through June 1992, but that wouldn't be enough to keep going. The board would have to apply for a state loan. If approved, the board estimated it would be $100,000 in the red by June 1993.

"The state department told us we could go as high as $400,000 in the red before they would force us to do something," Mendon-Union Superintendent Tucker Self said at the time of the merger. "Our feelings were that the district would be more marketable if it had a little bit of money as opposed to being deeply in debt."

A few Mendon-Union staff members were cut, including a full-time social studies teacher and a part-time business teacher. The district's superintendent and treasurer also were let go.

"Consolidation had been talked about in this district for a number of years," Self said. "When I first came here, there was some talk that this district wouldn't last four or five more years. I didn't place much stock in what was being said because the talk wasn't serious."

When Self came on board as the district's superintendent in 1988, there were 339 students. At the time of the merger, there were 290 students. Self said there weren't many issues with community residents when consolidation occurred because merging had been a possibility for a few years.

Today, Parkway Local has 1,137 students.

While mergers are relatively rare today, there was a wave of mergers in the 1960s and again in the 1980s.

A big year for mergers occurred in 1988, when six districts across the state became three.

In Van Wert County, also on the state's western border, the Ohio City-Liberty Local district merged with Van Wert City district; Farmington Local in Trumbull County, in the northeast corner of the state, merged with Bristol Local; and South Amherst Local in Lorain County joined with Firelands Local district.

Bristol superintendent Marty Santillo came on board in the early 1990s, shortly after the two districts consolidated. For years leading up to the merger, Farmington was having trouble get approval from voters for new money levies, Santillo said.

"Nobody wanted to merge with Farmington," Santillo said. "Bristol was willing to do it because the state was sweetening the pot."

Farmington had a general fund of about $300,000. Santillo said the state agreed to give that to Bristol as well as forgive Farmington's debt. Bristol also inherited Farmington teachers.

After the consolidation, Santillo said there was never any resentment from the students. However, there were issues with the residents, who ended up paying more in taxes.

"They felt Farmington lost its identity," she said.