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Potsdam, Canton moving forward with merger study


POTSDAM - It’s official.

The Potsdam and Canton central school districts will explore a merger together after both boards voted unanimously to hire a Western New York firm to conduct a study.

Following in the footsteps of the Canton Central School Board of Education, who approved the study at its meeting last week, the Potsdam Central School Board of Education did the same Tuesday night.

Potsdam Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said the decision came after a committee made up of board members, administrators and the business managers from each district met last week to interview candidates for the study.

“We had an excellent field of candidates to choose from,” Mr. Brady said, before recommending the board vote to hire the Buffalo-based Western New York Education Service Council.

Mr. Brady said the next step will be for the two boards to again meet together, but this time with council representatives also in attendance to discuss the formation of a steering committee that will be made up of “stakeholders” from both communities.

“We need to talk about who those stakeholders will be,” Mr. Brady said.

The two board must also establish a time from for the study, which Mr. Brady said he’s hoping will start soon and be wrapped up by this June. The study’s results would then be made public and a referendum would be held, with the voters from both districts having to approve of the merger in order for it to take place.

Should the merger be approved, Mr. Brady said a new school board made up of representatives from both communities would be formed, with that board beginning to meet immediately following the election. Those meetings, he said, would also signal the beginning of the phasing out of the two previous school boards.

Mr. Brady said the new board would then have to discuss its budget, facilities, and administration among other things.

“There are a lot of important decisions to make,” he said, adding the new district would then become an official entity on July 1 following the election.

While this year’s juniors and seniors would not be impacted by the merger, Mr. Brady said it is possible that this year’s sophomores could be graduates from the merged district’s first-ever graduation class.

Tuesday’s meeting also marked the first meeting for the board’s student representative, Robert “Bob” Milne, who noted during his presentation students have a lot of questions about the merger.

Board of education President Christopher C. Cowen said he was surprised to hear that.

“The one thing that kind of surprised me when Bob was here he said there are a lot of questions about the merger,” Mr. Cowen said, then suggesting an assembly or meeting where board of education members and administrators can listen to the student’s concerns and answer their questions.

The study, which was approved at a cost not to exceed $48,000, will be funded through a grant awarded to Canton Central from Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie and a grant awarded to Potsdam Central from Sen. Joseph A. Griffo.

According to Canton Central School Board of Education President Barbara B. Beekman, the study will look at possible programs and curriculum, a transportation plan and the financial impact of the merger on the taxpayers of both districts.

She said the study is then forwarded to state education officials before its results are made public.

The study comes at a time when both districts have been hit hard by reduced funding, which in turn has led to massive job reductions.

Over the past four years Canton has lost $7.3 million as a result of the gap elimination adjustment, while also eliminating 56 positions.

Over that same time Potsdam has lost $7.7 million due to the gap elimination adjustment, while also cutting approximately 40 positions.

Staff writer Susan Mende contributed to this report.

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