A definitive history is yet to be written

By Anita Prentice

The definitive history of why there are two main school districts in a town of 10,000 people is yet to be written. I’ll share some thoughts, but while I am a member of the Garrison School Board, these comments do not reflect the opinion of that school board and are mine alone.

Garrison and Haldane have never been a single school district. At one point in the early 20th century, there were 14 school districts in Philipstown, reflecting a time when each student walked to a one-room schoolhouse. (Earlier, in 1870, there were over 11,000 school districts in New York State; following a state-mandated reorganization in 1947 there are 700 today.) These 14 districts eventually consolidated down to two, Garrison and Haldane.

The property and population distributions in the two communities, reflecting the differences in land use and employment, resulted in a very different tax base in each. Garrison has fewer people, and has never grown to a size that would merit a Garrison high school. (After World War II, actually, the housing growth in Continental Village might have produced a larger Garrison district, but those homes were ceded to the Lakeland school district.) Garrison has been fortunate to have two school districts as neighbors (Haldane and Highland Falls) who offer a high school education to Garrison students, for paid tuition. The tuition is negotiated between the superintendents and boards of each district. Each district is a separate taxing unit; town and village taxes do not support the schools.

Because the Garrison and Haldane districts have remained separate entities for so long, each now has a different property tax rate, different schedule of teacher salaries, different relationships with contractors and service providers, and different traditions. All these things act as barriers to a merger of the districts.

The tax rate difference is the most significant obstacle. This difference is not something that the districts themselves can change; state action is required. Garrison residents, who would likely pay higher taxes, have a financial disincentive to work towards this change.

In addition, many people in both districts like the status quo. Both Haldane and Garrison offer small elementary classes, and each school has a family feel that no one wants to give up. Students in both schools achieve well in the present configuration, and no one knows what a merged district might bring. It is likely that there could be more academic and enriching extracurricular opportunities for students in a merged district, which to my mind would be the best reason to explore consolidation.

Another reason would be to create a greater sense of Philipstown-wide community. However, there are also many unknowns. Education is a labor-intensive endeavor; there are few economies of scale to be had without negatively affecting children. Research has proved small class sizes to be better for student learning. Both districts scrutinize their budgets closely for savings each year and there are probably fewer efficiencies to be had from consolidation than one might intuit.

At an exploratory forum on school consolidation held by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef last year, New York State’s Deborah Cunningham opined that the gap between the Garrison and Haldane combined wealth ratios (a state formula) meant that we were not good candidates for consolidation unless something major was to change.

The Garrison School Board has worked increasingly closely with the Haldane CSD to share services such as transportation and our superintendents cooperate in many ways. Both districts participate in a statewide purchasing contract for many supplies and services, as well as in many regional school district associations that look for savings and also advocate for relief from unfunded mandates.

Moving here from Pennsylvania 11 years ago, from an area where school district boundaries were contiguous with township boundaries, I was very surprised to discover the two small districts of Philipstown (and the large number of Philipstown residents who attend the Lakeland schools). In the intervening years, I have yet to come up with a single definitive answer that explains why our two small districts continue to persist separately side-by-side, but persist they do.

But also in that time, I have seen each district do a better and better job of educating their community’s children, and each of us is justifiably proud of the accomplished students who are our graduates. The students are something to celebrate now, whatever the future may hold.

A guide to the history of school district reorganization in NY State can be found here.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

This piece is by a contributor to The Current who is not on staff. Typically this is because it is a letter to the editor or a guest column.

5 replies on “Why Are There Two School Districts in Philipstown?”

  1. Thank you for writing this, Anita. We often talk about school district consolidation in Philipstown with the presumption that it will save tax dollars, and I don’t think we really know enough yet to make that case. The opportunity for more academic and enrichment opportunities is, as you pointed out, the best reason to consider consolidation.

    For many of us the issue is an emotional one, and before we make any decisions that might seem like good ideas, I want to see some good data.

  2. Property owners in Philipstown in the Lakeland School District pay so much more in school taxes than properties in the Haldane District. Properties in the Garrison District are getting a best deal. Some of these luxury properties are paying a lot less than modest homes in Philipstown. Time to wake up and tell your local government you don’t want this inequity to continue. This is a severe hardship for many property owners, most without school aged children and I think it is high time something is done about the consolidation and unification of Philipstown School Districts. I believe we can offer our students a quality education, small class size and enrichment opportunities with a combined district. To assume otherwise is short-sighted and a knee jerk reaction to change.

  3. When I have heard school consolidation mentioned here, it never occurred to me that it would mean merging the Garrison School and Haldane School. And that really isn’t a necessary result. Where I see the redundant insanity is in the overheard involved in maintaining two separate districts – all the district administration expense. Two superintendents and two separate departments doing the same kinds of things (transportation, personnel, purchasing, etc.) To me, it seems a no-brainer to combine these things. Anywhere else I have lived, the school districts are many times the size they are in New York. In most cases, the county = the school district, and includes anywhere from 5-18 larger high schools fed by numerous, more neighborhood-based, elementary and middle schools. I don’t know why we wouldn’t consolidate the district administration part, and leave the schools as-is. The only big change would be that Garrison students would obviously go to high school in-district to Haldane and eliminate the Highland Falls option.

  4. It is a shame that the Philipstown political machine is so dead set against leaving the fire companies alone. As Kathleen points out anyone worth there salt would be addressing the consolidation of the school districts. It is estimated that School taxes is about anywhere from 70% to 85% percent of the overall real estate /school tax bill. It is safe to assume that fire protection tax is lower than 5%.

    Julia, Kathie, and Molly are 100 percent on target. Why is our taxpayer dollars being wasted on things that only divide and not unite a community. We have all been question It has been time. Let’s bring this to the forefront.

    So going after the low hanging fruit is easy picking. No unions to deal with, no outside governmental body to deal with from Albany. Easy picking!

    It is a shame that Supervisor Shea has seen fit to push this mandate that appears to have come from the Gods. Following in the same footsteps is Mayor Gallagher, not known for his religious affiliations, under Supervisor Shea’s guidance has taken he reigns and is going to make this his poster child.

    Mr. Shea and Mr. Gallagher are in their own great company. Honestly one cannot tell one apart from the other. Now the Mr. Gallagher has received his edict from Mr. Shea, we all wait to see what comes out of the report that was not meant to be, premature and full of venom.

    Mr. Granor should have made a better effort to take his cookie cutter report and produce a more meaningful report opposed to try to build Supervisor Shea’s resume for the election campaign, (Google – Van Buren and Manlius – Granor fire report) you be the judge. You are not going to bring me to the table when you attack me and my fellow fire fighters in the way you do. If you wanted to have a civil discourse then you would have provided everyone with the proper time to get comfortable with the intentions of the report. When Supervisor Shea within a month of getting elected tells us at the Garrison Fire Company that we are going district no matter what, well Richard that just does not cut it.

    We have all grown tired of your agenda. You have forgotten that you are elected to serve the majority of the residents not the minority political machine that has kept you in.

    Why you ask, well a little known secret is that Mr. Shea had no intention of releasing the report in its entirety. It was to have been doled out like slices of a pine apple in small bites for all to get hooked on the crack candy.

    Thankfully Mayor Gallagher, who has his own agenda, followed Mr. Shea’s instructions to the T. For that the entire Philipstown is eternally grateful for your arrogance. One can only imagine the fury going back and forth on that one between Supervisor Shea and Mayor Gallagher. It is widely suspected that Mr. Shea new exactly what he was doing when he gave Mayor Gallagher the report. It is amazing to see who gets sold out for their own political gain. Mr. Shea’s advisors said give it to Gallagher, let him be the patsy, if it works take the credit, if it fails distance yourself.

    Back peddle with those big old flip flops.

    Well Mr. Shea, Mayor Gallagher from Continental Village to Manitou, the Highlands down to the Village of Nelsonville to the Village of Cold Spring, the barn doors are completely open, no way to stop the exodus.

    While this was not intended to be an attempt to bash anyone, but to promote Kathleen’s question – “Why not consolidate school systems”, it is too frustrating not to discuss the Philipstown political agenda and its attempt to filter into every branch of each governing body within Philipstown.

    A second area if anyone was serious would be to dissolve the Nelsonville and Village of Cold Spring governments. Keep the name; just get rid of the government. Not duplication, but triplication of the same job being done by three people, three departments.

    So you now have 2 areas that would reduce taxes.

    1. Consolidation of School systems.
    2. Abolishing Nelsonville and Cold Spring government.

    You get that done then we can talk about this low hanging fruit that you have been pitching. Thank you Supervisor Shea and Mayor Gallagher for bringing this to the fore front. Your voters thank you. You make a lovely team.

    Focus on a one town wide school district. Address what is the true bite in taxes. Our children would benefit, K to 6 in Garrison, 7th to 12 at Haldane. Eliminate or keep the option to send kids to Oneil etc. (phase out going forward).

    Kids might even have lunch at a decent time opposed to the first lunch 9:30 am offered at Haldane. Kids could actually have a normal day.

    Anita touches upon the reason and I can appreciate her position and her sensitivity to addressing this. It all comes down to taxes. Is Garrison willing to pay more now and stabilize in the very near future? I will take one step towards the dark side here. There are those that do not want a merger because they do not want their children associating with a different class of people. It is abhorent that anyone would think that way. But that has been repeated to me and my friends too many times over.

    Diversity is what makes this country great, not exclusiveness.

    Look at the numbers of kids who begin college or university then transfer out their first year. The numbers are abnormally high. One can speculate that they were not adequately prepared for the real world outside the 65 member class size. The same kids that have been together
    since kindergarten.

    Lastly, no mention has been made yet, what will be the effect of the Fishkill development on our school system.

    Garrison kids will not be allowed to attend, with their only option being O’Neil.

    The over flow will mandate that those in district get first choice.

    Garrison also enjoys the current benefit of sending their kids to two High Schools – O’Neil and Haldane. Any resident outside of Garrison, cannot send their kids to O’Neil without paying additional tuition.

    Sadly it all comes down to $$$ opposed to the kids education.

  5. Thanks for all the explanation. Consolidation still seems the way to go- there have got to be ways to make it work for all.

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