New Castle News

Closer Look

June 30, 2010

Neshannock, Wilmington schools talking merger

NEW CASTLE — Union and Mohawk are not the only school districts considering mergers.

Wilmington and Neshannock also want to explore consolidation options.

Superintendent Dr. C. Joyce Nicksick told the Wilmington school board Monday she has talked with the superintendents of those three districts to discuss the possibility of merging. She said she plans to contact other districts, including West Middlesex, to explore other possibilities.

Gov. Ed Rendell recommended a statewide school consolidation plan last year. That plan was to form a legislative commission to study mergers to reduce the state’s 500 districts to 100.

Rendell proposed the commission come up with two plans, and if the General Assembly rejects both, the authority for consolidating school districts would go to the state board of education.

However, in Lawrence County, districts are initiating talks as a way to consolidate finances and services and find other districts that best suit their needs.

This month, Mohawk’s school board discussed merging with Union.

At its work session last week, the Wilmington board gave Nicksick the OK to contact other superintendents.

Nicksick explained the idea arose several months ago while the board was considering a high school/middle school renovation project.

“Several individuals had mentioned it, and it has been done in Beaver County, so it seemed worthy of putting it on the table for discussions,” she explained. “Some board members had said it doesn’t hurt to talk, that it could be a positive thing.”

She cited consolidation of services and economics as the reasoning and although the district enrollment has declined, that was not a major factor.

Nicksick said she has asked Mohawk and Union superintendents “that we be kept in mind once they get going on their discussions.”

She said she also has talked with Neshannock superintendent Dr. Mary Todora, who told her the board has expressed interest in the talks and in forming a committee to explore it.

Todora said yesterday she could not remember when she had asked her board about it, although it was not on the agenda at either meeting this month.

She said she might have “tagged” it in executive session when talking about the budget cuts and personnel.

“I would like Neshannock to stay Neshannock,” Todora said, “but as districts struggle to get balanced budgets, we’re going to have to look at running the district more cost-effectively.

“I also know we can’t continue to go to the taxpayers for every little thing, so it’s a moral and an ethical issue with me.

“I have to think of what’s better for the kids and our taxpayers,” she added.

If the data shows that, she would support it, she said, adding, “there are so many questions and so much is involved.”

She foresees it taking at least a year for studies. Then, there will be focus meetings with the community and details to work out.

“The community is going to have to want to do it,” Todora said, “and I do know Neshannock takes pride in its district.”

She believes schools are being proactive because of economic times and because “it’s a lot easier to do something on your own with someone who wants to do it with you than to be forced to merge with a district that doesn’t share the same beliefs, mission statements and values, she said.

Neshannock board member Karen Houk said she has no opinion yet about whether consolidating is a good idea.

“I think it’s something that should be looked into,” she said. “With economic conditions the way they are, if merging could benefit the taxpayers and students educationally it should be looked into. My concern is how the two schools would mesh.”

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