By Jeanne Sager
ROSCOE March 16, 2004 The clock had just ticked past the hour marker when the m word came out.
Livingston Manor teacher Rob Farrell said it first.
What is the whole long-term goal? he asked, midway through the first meeting of a steering committee formed to consider sharing services between the Livingston Manor and Roscoe school districts.
Is it to make one merged district? he asked, or to share services?
There was the word on the tip of everyones tongues merger.
And it took a teacher who hails from Johnson City to bring out a buzz of excitement in the community members, parents, school staff and students in the room.
Were six miles apart, and yet we have two superintendents and small numbers of kiddos, said Roscoe Superintendent George Will.
We duplicate all these services, he continued.
Manor Superintendent Debra Lynker took the plunge next.
Should we go out for a study next year? she asked, looking around the room to gauge the response.
Are we going the right way talking shared services? she added. I just get the sense in both communities, and maybe Im wrong, but I think maybe the time is right.
Her query was met with widening smiles from the Roscoe representatives sitting across the room.
Thats just what we were thinking, said Nicole Bishop, a Roscoe parent and graduate of the district who remembers Lynker from when she taught in the very room where the steering committee met.
I think the kids need more, Bishop said. I think in light of Sullivan West being so successful, the time is right.
I think if youre going to talk about this, talk merger now, she said.
Just an hour and a half into the first meeting of the steering committee, and the hemming and hawing over combining sports teams was gone.
Just an hour and a half in, and an entire room of residents from both districts were smiling.
Its really all one community, said Will, a Livingston Manor resident who got his start in education as a Manor teacher.
You guys got right to the issue so much faster than I thought you would.
There are many issues that will have to be talked through, the committee agreed. The merger issue has been broached in the Livingston Manor and Roscoe area several times before.
Just 10 years ago, a referendum on the issue was shot down by the voters.
Lynker was there. She remembers.
I was out there on the front lines, and I swore Id never do it again, she said.
But things are different now.
We dont need a new school, Lynker said. And we could keep our own K-fours, have one building as a five-eight middle school and one building as a nine-12 high school.
We can do this slow, she continued. We dont have to do this tomorrow; we dont have to do it next week.
You have all of next year to do studies.
The process takes up to two years, and it has to go to a vote once again its ultimately up to the voters.
With merged districts, not only do the students come together, but so do boards of education and administration.
Sometimes thats a problem, Will said. In this case, it isnt.
Im an old man, and Ive got about one more year and then I want to relax, Will announced, allowing his unofficial retirement to sink in around the room while Lynkers eyes widened.
Right now, Roscoe has an enrollment of 290 children. There are 646 kids in the Livingston Manor school.
The bottom line is, wed still be a small school, one committee member said.
The committee agreed to meet again March 22 to put together something more concrete to present to the two boards of education.
Meanwhile, they said, there are still some shared service issues that can be bandied about.
Roscoe wont be fielding varsity or modified baseball this year; and there will be no softball. Roscoe Athletic Director Fred Ahart addressed the immediate problem, but the committee said it was something to look at in the long term. The season has already started, making it too late to save the sports this year.
If it doesnt work, everything we do here tonight would be a problem, Farrell said. I think weve got to take our time.
But I think next year its a great idea, he said, switching into baseball coach mode. Youve got ninth and 10th graders, youve got great players, youve got lefties too!
I just dont want to rush into it, he said.
But there are other possibilities. Livingston Manor had to cut its summer recreation program due to lack of funding. Roscoe has a pool with swimming lessons and lifeguards for free swim, golf lessons and arts and crafts for the little kids.
There are academic extra-curricular clubs that might find more support in a larger student population, and there may be ways to save money by busing Manor and Roscoe kids on the same vehicle to BOCES programs in Liberty and Monticello.
Those issues will stay on the table while merger studies are completed and more committees are set up to determine what will best serve the communities.
You can still come swim in our pool, Will told the Manor representatives.