By Duane Good, editor.
As reported in the Sentinel, the Millersburg and Upper Dauphin Area school districts are going forward on a ‘‘co-op’’ plan for most of their varsity and several of their middle school sports.
Also reported last week was an announcement that both districts are discussing what was called the ‘‘possibility’’ of a complete merger.
This week, we present ‘‘the story so far’’ on these merger discussions, based on a presentation given at a joint work session of the two boards Oct. 18.
Enrollment and Efficiency
As presented by Superintendents Thomas Haupt (Millersburg) and Evan Williams (UDA):
• Both districts have seen declining enrollment since the 1990s, based on figures from the state Education Department.
• Between 2011-12 and 2024-25, Millersburg is expected to drop from 843 to 686 students.
• In that same 14-year period, UDA is expected to drop from 1,249 to 1,047 students.
A merger of both districts has the potential benefits of:
• Enhanced ‘‘equalization of educational opportunities’’ for students in both districts.
• Reorganization of staff to ‘‘be used more effectively, efficiently and maximized.’’
• The elimination of the existing ‘‘district sharing’’ scenario and the opportunity to create ‘‘a new organizational structure that is better suited to the long term.’’
In a ‘‘FAQ’’ segment of their presentation, it was noted that, a merger could:
• Grant students more extracurricular options, as well as more curriculum choices based on need.
• Improve programs available to students with IEPs and learning disabilities, as well as students seeking enrichment programs.
Taxpayers in a merged district could benefit from:
• More cost-effective operations, as smaller schools often are less cost-efficient.
• A broader tax base and less reliance on declining funding from the government.
• The creation of new schools as “community centers.’’
It also was noted that the current scenario of 500 school districts in Pennsylvania also is less cost effective and contributes to higher property taxes.
Boards and Busing
The presentation also outlined how a merged district would be governed and operated day-to-day:
• Initially, both nine-member school boards would merge. That 18-member entity would stay in place until the first round of elections after the merger is completed.
• It would need to be decided if a board for a merged school district would be nine members chosen ‘‘at large’’ through the district; or six members from one of the former districts and three from the other, ‘‘based on the current student body from each district.’’
• The amount of busing will depend on whatever is decided about school buildings. The more buildings retained, the less busing patterns will have to be changed.
• When two districts merge, the level of property tax may not be the same between the boundaries of the former school systems.
‘‘ … it is almost guaranteed that one district will have slightly lower or higher taxes than the other, because no two districts are the same.
‘‘Under the merger, the property taxes could be equalized to reach a median between the two, or the lower district could be brought up to match the district with the higher mill rate,’’ the presentation stated.
Current property tax millage rates are 20.8109 (Millersburg) and 18.3348 (UDA).
• Numerous one-time costs will be incurred if the districts merge. Textbooks, athletic/band uniforms, technology infrastructure and signage are among them.
There also may need to be re-negotiation of labor contracts and possible one-time costs associated with that.
Ideally, however, cost savings per each year after the merger will outweight the one-time costs.
A merger would ‘‘likely result in a reduction in the administrative personnel needed to operate what would have been two separate districts.
‘‘… in regard to teaching staff, the proposed new district will be required to assess the number of teachers needed, based on current (and projected future) enrollment.
It was noted in the presentation that a majority vote from both boards will be required to approve any merger scenario.
Even prior to that, however, much else will need to happen:
• Continued ‘‘open dialogue’’ between the two districts.
• Authorization of a ‘‘feasibility study’’ to outline how a merger would need to take place, as well as what may need to be done regarding the existing school campuses (NOTE: The current presentation makes no recommendation on existing campuses.)
• Meetings to obtain public feedback and to address taxpayer/student questions and/or concerns.
Should the districts merge, state law dictates what date the new district goes into effect, with its superintendent in place.
Moreover, the law does not allow a ‘‘transitional year,’’ in which each district functions as a separate entity under the direction of a combined board.
However, it does allow the merged district to ‘‘delay and stagger’’ other aspects of the jointure, such as merger of administrative/fiscal functions; reassignment of students among school buildings; and which facilities to vacate.
Finally – and somewhat obviously – a new mascot, livery (color scheme) and slogan for the new district would be needed.
The Oct. 18 presentation suggests the possibility of a competition among students to decide these things ‘‘which would allow the students a hand in the (merger).’’
For the Full Presentation Visit either udasd.org OR mlbgsd.k12.pa.us