ATHENS/SAYRE, PA (WENY) -- We have an update on a study regarding a potential merger between two Bradford County school districts, in part due to declining enrollment in the Sayre Area School District. Alloy5 and its partners presented their final findings on the potential merger feasibility study for Athens and Sayre Area School Districts Tuesday night.

"We are presenting you with a plan that will help you make that decision. It's your responsibility to make that decision about your future," said the Director of Development for Alloy5, Bekah Rusnock.

In 2022, the Athens and Sayre Area School Districts retained Alloy5 and their assembled multi-disciplinary team to conduct a feasibility study of a merger between the two districts. The purpose of the feasibility study was to provide the Athens and Sayre Area school boards with an in-depth review of information to evaluate while determining whether a merger is in the best interest of both school districts, students, and respective communities.

Presenters indicated the completed study does not provide a specific recommendation to the school boards on whether they should move forward with any of the baseline or merger scenario assumptions. Instead, it focuses on the circumstances and conditions that would be required, should the districts consider a merger agreement. The study also provides guidance on issues the school districts may encounter and identifies issues that would need to be discussed and addressed as they consider each of the proposed scenarios.

There are eight areas presenters covered, including:

- Demographics & Enrollment
-Instructional Programs
- Facilities
- Transportation
- Personnel
- Governance
- Finances
- Building Scenarios

According to enrollment and demographics findings, in the October 1st count data, Athens showed relatively stable trends in the student counts (growth of 0.4% over six years.) In the same data, enrollment in Sayre showed decreases after 2019-2020 (a decrease of 2.7% over six years.)

The study's action steps include:

- Continuing to monitor enrollment to determine staffing and facility needs
- Baseline scenario assumptions:
- Athens: gradual return to pre-pandemic charter school enrollment; no other changes in K-12
- Sayre: charter school enrollment held flat; no other changes in K-12 enrollment
- Merger scenario assumptions:
- No changes compared to the baseline scenario - Athens and Sayre enrollment are added to the combined school district

"Overall, the increase that's shown with Athens and the decrease that's shown with Sayre, the overall population of students stays at about 3,000 over the course of the projections here," said the Principal Architect with Alloy5, Ian Tyson.

According to findings for instructional programs:

- Both Athens and Sayre offer similar core curricula at each level (Elementary, Middle/Junior High School, and High School)
- Athens and Sayre have different timeliness for the review and updates to the curriculum
- Athens has a five-year review cycle, Sayre has an eight-year review cycle
- Variances in the number of course offerings in the catalog do not account for the differentiation of classes for student needs

Action steps for instructional programs include:

- Align school day length and building bell times
- Align curricular and supplemental resources (costs included in the merger scenario)
- Align curriculum review and revision cycle
- Review teacher certifications and course offerings for the combined school district
- Align technology usage and placement cycle (costs included in the merger scenario)
- Align graduation requirements for high school students

"In instructional programs, our study found a lot of similarities across the two school districts, similar core curriculum across the three tiers (elementary, middle/junior high school, and high school)," said Tyson.

Tyson also talked about facilities and what the goal classroom size would be if the two schools merged.

"Regarding the capacity of each building, each building should be at about 85% capacity. That's the 85% rule for all school facilities. It gives you some room to grow and provides some flexibility," said Tyson.

According to the findings for transportation:

- Both Athens and Sayre transport a significant number of students
- Both Athens and Sayre use a variety of contractors to provide the majority of transportation service - Sayre operates four vans with its own staff
- Over time, the number of students transported in Sayre has decreased, which is likely related to the enrollment trends described previously

Action steps for transportation include:

-Survey Athens and Sayre parents to determine transportation needs - the merger scenario assumes that the combined school district would need to add vehicles for middle and high school students
- Conduct a geospatial study to determine the most efficient transportation structure
- Coordinate with transportation vendors to adjust vehicles to the needs of the combined school district

According to the findings for personnel:

- Both Athens and Sayre have similar class size ranges across each level (elementary, middle/junior high, and high school)
- Sayre reported a lower number of students per teacher, which is likely related to the enrollment trends described previously
- Generally, the steps on the Athens teacher salary schedule are higher than those on the Sayre teacher salary schedule

Action steps for personnel include:

- Review salary schedules and benefits; renegotiate and integrate collective bargaining agreements in the combined school district (costs included in the merger scenario)
- Review staffing levels and facilities to determine the number of positions in the combined school district -- the merger scenarios assumes that the combined school district would need fewer staff:
- Teachers and guidance: 6
- Administrators: 2
- Central Office: 10
- Support staff: 11

According to the findings for governance:

- Center Area and Monaca school districts combined to form the Central Valley School District, which is the only recent merger in Pennsylvania 
- The formation of Central Valley included a number of initial steps:
- Completion of academic and financial impact studies
- Votes by each of the school boards
- Integration of academics and extracurricular offerings of the two school districts
- Realignment of buildings in the combined school district

Action steps for governance include:

- Determine the desired processes and sources of input that would help the two communities make a decision about the potential merger 
- Create an application to the Dept. of Education
- Conduct initial coordination and collaboration for academic programs and administrative functions
- Dedicate resources to support the initial transition period
- Integrate the two school boards in the combined school district

According to the findings for finances:

- Both Athens and Sayre are projected to remain financially stable in the baseline scenario where the two school districts remain as separate entities
- Balancing future year budgets will likely require the need to consider tax increases, review of expenditures for potential efficiencies, and incremental investments in facilities and programs
- Given current legal limits and the financial capacity of Athens 

 A public town hall will be held on June 12th at 6 p.m. at the Athens Area High School auditorium. It will be a time for people to ask questions, voice their concerns, and make comments about the presentation/study.

Ultimately, it will be up to both school boards to determine if the merger will move forward.

To view the full 291 page document of the final study, click here. To watch the recording from Tuesday, June 4th, click here.