New Paltz, Highland Schools Not Consolidating

New Paltz Central School District will not be consolidating with Highland School District
New Paltz Central School District will not be consolidating with Highland School District

Despite preliminary consideration, New Paltz Central School District will not be consolidating with Highland School District.

After receiving a letter from Highland, New Paltz officials said they would consider a study to explore the possibility of shared services, not consolidation, School Board Vice President K.T. Tobin Flusser said.

“Highland has a situation where they said if there is no change they would need to go into ‘educational insolvency,’” Tobin Flusser said. “They were looking to neighbors to help them cut down.”

In a Feb. 14 Letter to the Editor in The New Paltz Times, Highland School District Superintendent Deborah A. Haab said Highland reached out to neighboring school districts gauging interest in a study on potential consolidation efforts.

Highland, like many districts in the state, is facing fiscal challenges in an attempt to meet the 2 percent property tax cap threshold, Tobin Flusser said.

Despite this, New Paltz Central School District Superintendent Maria Rice said New Paltz will not explore consolidation options.

“We have no intent to consolidate for a variety of reasons that don’t make sense for us as a school district,” Rice said.

Assuming all of Highland’s debt and disparity between collective bargaining contracts were two reasons Rice said New Paltz would only look towards potential shared services options and not consolidation.

Rice said anything short of consolidating entire buildings would not bring the costs down.

Alix Walsh, a French teacher at Highland Middle School, said getting necessary services to students is difficult under Highland’s fiscal constraints, but that possible consolidation is a two-sided coin.

While consolidation could put more teachers’ jobs on the line, it could offer Highland a chance to start anew, according to Walsh.

“Perhaps merging would offer students more programs, sports, foreign language and extracurricular activities that are, in my humble opinion, necessary to create and maintain a well-rounded student, young adult and citizen,” Walsh said. “At this point, with budget cuts lurking at every turn, the future graduates of Highland are being robbed of the opportunity and experience they so deserve.”

Tobin Flusser said Ulster County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) could be a “major player” in potential shared services with Highland, as they already have options for such problems to be solved.

“BOCES already have an infrastructure for shared services,” Tobin Flusser said.  “When two or more districts have an issue they need solved, they can go to BOCES to provide the services they need — like technology for example…. We are interested in ways to help reduce costs short of consolidation.”

While any merger of services would be “a long way off” and would require both communities to vote to approve the consolidation along with approval from legislators in Albany, Haab said in her letter.

Walsh said in the end, she has students’ interests and futures closest to her heart.

“I only want what is best for these kids. I just don’t know which path will lead to that outcome,” Walsh said.