Sayre School and The Lexington School have formed a task force to explore the possible merger of the two independent private schools.
Sayre headmaster Clayton Chambliss said Tuesday that discussions are "a first step" and "purely an exploration."
"I think we need to decide whether a combined school would be a better school and whether there are economies of scale that could be brought about," Chambliss said.
According to a joint announcement by Sayre and The Lexington School, the task force includes the headmasters of both schools and selected members from each school's board, with retiring Transylvania University President Charles Shearer acting as facilitator. The panel has met once, said Charles Baldecchi, head of The Lexington School.
The plan is for the panel to meet during the summer and submit a report to the boards of the schools in early fall.
"The task force will only recommend combining the two schools if a new school would be stronger than Sayre and The Lexington School individually," Baldecchi said in the joint statement.
Baldecchi said in a phone interview that the task force's final report probably would be a matter for further discussion by the respective boards, rather than immediate action. Neither school approached the other about a possible merger, he said.
"It's more a matter that over the years, once or twice a decade, there seems to be some conversation about it," Baldeccchi said. "We had some people talking about it this spring, and I think the feeling was that if we were going to consider the idea or look into it, we needed to form a task force. The idea is to explore whether or not we even pursue it further."
Economics apparently could a factor in the ultimate decision.
"In the current economy, all schools are feeling the pinch, but we are both in really good shape," Chambliss said. "We're just looking down the road. Have we reached the top of our tuition levels for this community and the community coming forward? It's all uncharted waters."
But Badlecchi stressed that the merger exploration is not solely a result of the economy.
"At The Lexington School our numbers are holding firm, but we probably are seeing more families asking for assistance," he said. "I think one of the reasons you would look at doing this is to see if there are some economies of scale. But, of course, both schools have existed separately for a long time, so there are also a lot of good reasons to keep them separate."
Sayre and The Lexington School are among Lexington's most prestigious private educational institutions.
Sayre was launched in 1854 — it was a girls' school until 1876 — and has about 600 students in preschool through 12th grade. Its campus is on North Limestone near downtown.
The Lexington School was founded in 1959 as an independent co-educational day school and has an enrollment of 500 to 530 in grades 1 through 8. It is at 1050 Lane Allen Road.
Both schools stress academics.
The schools are inviting comments or questions from their respective constituents about the possibility of merger.
Baldecchi said word of the merger exploration already is prompting considerable discussion, noting that both schools have long traditions.
"The culture of each is different," he said. "People at The Lexington School like what it does, and people at Sayre obviously like what they do. I think that's going to be one of the big topics for this task force."