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Merger study starts soon for Canton-Potsdam school districts; process explained by consultants

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CANTON — Consultants hired to explore the idea of merging Potsdam and Canton central school districts explained in detail Tuesday night how their study will progress over the next several months.

A team of four consultants from Western New York Educational Council, Buffalo, met with members of the Canton and Potsdam school boards during a two-hour joint work session where they released a proposed timeline for the merger study.

All four of the researchers are retired school superintendents who have been involved with merger studies in other parts of the state.

Robert W. Christmann, the council’s executive director, warned board members that based on his experiences, the process likely will be difficult because people are resistant to change, and few school districts have followed through with mergers.

“Change is painful for humans,” Mr. Christmann said. “There will be segments of the community and segments of the staff who will work against it. Usually if it’s defeated, it’s defeated from within, from the staff.”

However, in instances when mergers were approved, the results have proved to be successful, Mr. Christmann said.

“The payoff for kids and the community is very positive,” he said. “I would be shocked if the results of this study don’t show great opportunity for students and great opportunity for the communities.”

Next month the two boards are scheduled to appoint a 28-member joint advisory committee that will meet monthly to help draft recommendations for the report. The study will be conducted in November through May, when a draft feasibility report is submitted to the state Education Department.

If accepted by state officials, the report would be released in June to the Canton and Potsdam school boards. If the school boards decide to move forward, two public votes are required: a non-binding “straw” vote slated for November 2014 and a final vote tentatively scheduled for February 2015. If approved, a new board of education would be elected in March 2015 and the new district would begin July 1, 2015.

The eight key components of feasibility are:

n History and background information for both communities and school districts.

n Student enrollment projections.

n Curriculum and instruction.

n Extracurricular and athletic programs.

n Fiscal condition.

n Facilities.

n Transportation and food service.

n Personnel.

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