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At a time when the financial situation for local public schools has been grim, some educational leaders have taken a bold step in addressing the issue.

Representatives of Canton and Potsdam central school districts are forming an advisory committee whose members will examine a possible merger. The Canton Central Board of Education approved the format of the proposed committee last week, and the Potsdam Central Board of Education was scheduled to vote on the issue last night.

Officials from local school districts have recently discussed different ideas for dealing with increasingly tightening budgets. These have included district mergers, consolidating services and creating regional high schools.

But no discussions have so far progressed like the one between Canton Central and Potsdam Central. This is a positive sign that these two districts are ready to take the necessary steps toward reducing their financial strains.

Forming a committee doesn’t solve any problems by itself. How many times have we heard elected officials announce the creation of a blue ribbon panel to look into a problem — only to see the recommendations ignored, the panel disbanded and the problem remain?

Forming a committee to examine any issue is a good first step, but it is only a first step. If second and third steps do not follow — having the governing bodies approve the recommendations made and putting them into effect — the work done by the committee will have been in vain.

By all accounts, however, it looks like officials at both Canton Central and Potsdam Central are serious about bringing forth a positive result. They more than anyone know the difficulties confronting public school budgets, and merging districts may be the best solution.

They also have developed a good format for this committee. The most important stakeholders will be represented on this group, and this means that members will receive vital input in making their conclusions.

Of particular note is the inclusion of committee members representing higher education. SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University in Canton as well as SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson University in Potsdam will select members to serve on the group.

It is crucial that our local universities be involved in this process as they have much at stake here. Recruiting the best faculty members for their respective institutions is greatly enhanced when the surrounding communities have what all families look for in prospective hometowns: excellent public schools.

The working environment on a particular college campus may be very inviting to a teaching candidate. But if the broader community lacks what the individual wants for his or her family, the spot offered will either go unfilled or given to a less-qualified person.

Meetings held by the committee being formed by Canton Central and Potsdam Central will be open to the public. There will be time set aside for comments from those in the audience. These are crucial components as they will ensure transparency throughout the process and guarantee that input is offered by people other than those serving on the committee.

The school districts in Canton and Potsdam are ideally suited to merge their systems if they choose. The difficulty then will be in selecting one of the district’s existing identities or creating a new one.

This is where some other districts have become stalled in their discussions about potential mergers or service consolidations, and they must move beyond it. Salvaging an effective educational system is much more important than whose name is put on the marquee. Canton and Potsdam are setting a good example by moving forward on this challenging issue.

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