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Canton and Potsdam school boards

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POTSDAM - School boards in both Canton and Potsdam are scheduled to vote this week on whether to proceed with the next step of the merger process which involves holding a non-binding, “straw poll” public vote in both districts.

The Potsdam Central School Board is scheduled to hold its reorganizational meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on the proposed capital project referendum. After the public hearing, the board is expected to adjourn into executive session and return to open session at approximately 7 p.m.

During the open meeting, the board will decide whether to schedule a straw vote that would allow district residents to vote “yes” or “no” on whether the district should pursue merging with neighboring Canton Central School District.

Potsdam Central School Superintendent Patrick A. Brady said he would like the public to have the chance to vote on the issue now that it’s been studied by consultants, a Joint Advisory Committee and both school boards.

“Personally, I do think it would be beneficial to allow the community to have a greater voice in the direction of our school,” Mr. Brady said. “This is too important a decision to leave to a few people.”

A final merger report released June 19 by consultants said combining Potsdam and Canton school districts has the potential to save money, improve programs for students and reduce school taxes.

The 178-page report was prepared by three consultants from Western New York Educational Council, based at the University at Buffalo. The districts paid approximately $50,000 for the study, which took about eight months to complete.

If the two districts agree to merge, the state is supposed to provide $35 million in incentive funding over a 14-year period. Canton school officials have said the district’s reserve funds could be depleted by the 2015-16 school year, while Potsdam could face that situation in the 2017-18 school year under current funding mechanisms.

“I think our board will certainly take the study into consideration and take a look at the long-term financial picture if the districts don’t merge and if they do,” Mr. Brady said. “The study shows both Canton and Potsdam would have access to more quality opportunities and there would be reduced costs.”

The Canton Central School Board will vote on the same measure at its meeting 7 p.m. Thursday meeting.

Canton School Superintendent William A. Gregory said both boards have to approve moving forward in order for the process to continue.

“A no vote by either board will stop the merger process while a yes vote will mean the initiation of an intense public informational period culminating in a public advisory referendum in early November,” Mr. Gregory said in an email.

The first vote is considered a “straw poll vote” and would likely be held in conjunction with the Nov. 6 general election. It would have to garner the approval from voters in both districts before a second, binding vote is held Dec. 16, according to a tentative schedule.

Besides voting on the merger, citizens would also be asked to decide how many people will serve on a newly-created school board, with the choices being five, seven or nine. The public will also decide whether school board terms should be three, four or five years. The vote would also determine provisions for staggered terms of the first board.

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