ELCS Superintendent Scott Osborne discussed the state of the district with board members at a meeting on Tuesday, June 10.
ELIZABETHTOWN — Which is more lethal: A flying lion with talons or a landbound eagle with an untamed mane?
It’s a question that Elizabethtown-Lewis and Westport will have to kick around as they enter into the nascent stages of merging their boys varsity and girls modified soccer teams.
Enrollment has been dropping in the districts, said both ELCS and Westport Superintendents Scott Osborne and Dr. John Gallagher, and fewer students from those that remain are interested in participating in interscholastic sports.
Now, they need to pivot to offense to ensure all students have a chance to participate.
“We want to have variety and depth for kids,” Osborne told the ELCS board and members of the public at the school’s monthly board meeting June 10. “And I also have a responsibility for the community to make sure we’re fiscally efficient.”
The districts have already received approval for the merger on an as-needed basis.
“We are not, at this time, at the point of full-on sports mergers,” Osborne later said in a phone interview. “We feel as if we can maintain our own teams. That’s a good thing for kids, too.”
Gallagher stressed the merger is a way to preserve opportunities for all students. “We don’t cut anybody,” he said.
Eleven players are needed to start a game. Last season, ELCS had 13 boys varsity players and Westport, nine.
“We’re now looking at 22 on a combined team,” Osborne said. “This is the spirit of cooperation. One would think that would make for a stronger team.”
‘FAIR AND BALANCED’
Coaches will make a determination as to the playing time for each player. Other outstanding questions — who will coach, where they will play, which uniforms will be worn and which mascot will adorn them — will be ironed out later by the districts’ administration.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” Gallagher said. “We can probably resolve the outstanding issues with one more meeting.”
“Both schools know that a fair and equal situation is needed in order for all involved to be satisfied and happy with the arrangement,” wrote Osborne in his monthly report. “Both know if the situation is not balanced and fair, the merger will not succeed, and students will go without.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Osborne cited districts in Warren and Washington counties and the current merged track team containing students from ELCS, Westport, Keene and Moriah.
And just this past spring, Westport and ELCS fielded combined teams for modified baseball and softball.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Paula Celinsky, a parent of an ELCS student. “I know the schools are having a hard time. There was concern last year with them having a team — I think playing soccer is more important than who you’re playing with.”
Celinsky said there isn’t much for kids to do in the rural district. Sports play an important role in filling the void.
“The time has come for a lot of these school districts,” added Suzanne Celinski, who is also a parent. “It’s a good idea.”
The discussion came at the end of a meeting that discussed Gov. Cuomo’s push to incentivize local governments and taxing jurisdictions to share services by floating a rebate check in front of taxpayers.
Residents will be eligible for the freeze in the first year if their local governments stay within the property tax cap. During the second year, local governments must take quantifiable steps to share services and reduce costs in order to remain under the freeze.
ELCS, like other districts in the region, remains fuzzy on the details.
The only official guidance so far has been a state-produced webinar zipped off to the school’s business manager.
Asked if the state had delineated a clear communication protocol, spokesperson Geoff Gloake from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance demurred:
“There will be a broad communications effort with school districts and local governments regarding the property tax freeze,” Gloake said. “In April, the Tax Department hosted a webinar with school officials on the freeze. Guidance will be issued in the upcoming weeks, and webinars and other outreach will be used to reach local government officials.”
BOCES services will likely not count in the property tax freeze, Osborne said. But the shared bus run with Westport to CV-TECH with fuel from the Essex County DPW will.
This has saved at least $35,000 so far, said the school’s transportation manager.
Osborne said the district will have until June 1, 2015, to submit and gain state approval for a government efficiency plan.
“How you handle life’s valleys will determine the peaks,” he said. “The summertime does not slow down — we actually hit the accelerator.”