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Merger data identifies possible staff cuts; teaching jobs preserved

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CANTON — Combining Canton and Potsdam school districts would preserve teaching jobs, but could reduce costs by eliminating nearly 14 other positions, according to consultants studying the idea.

Data collected by Western New York Educational Council, Buffalo, identifies the equivalent of 13.75 jobs that could be cut by merging the two neighboring districts in time for the 2015-16 school year.

A list presented to the Joint Advisory Committee includes reducing administration by 2.55 positions, district business office by 2.2, buildings and grounds by 2.6, one building staff job, one instructional support services job and a 0.6 food service position.

The number of athletic coaches could be cut by 5.5, according to the analysis.

At the same time, the council suggested adding 1.7 teachers, which would increase the combined teaching staff from 193.3 to 195. The only recommendation for a teaching reduction is a half-time art position.

Canton School Superintendent William A. Gregory said the consultants’ recommendations take into account the extensive cuts that both districts have endured in recent years. Their proposals would allow the districts to offer a comprehensive educational program that capitalizes on the strengths of both districts’ faculties, he said.

“We would be able to offer essentially all of the courses currently taught in both schools as well as restore a number of offerings we previously cut,” Mr. Gregory said in an email.

The additions would include one full-time science teacher for the merged sixth- to eighth-grade middle school. Elementary schools students would remain in their home communities.

To meet state mandates at the middle school level, the consultants recommended adding a half-time technology teacher and a half-time family and consumer science teacher. To offer foreign language instruction to all seventh-graders, they advised adding a 0.2 French teacher. For grades seven through 12 they suggested adding a 0.2 language other than English position.

Potsdam Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said in an email that the consultants’ findings support the idea that a merged district may offer advantages for students.

“This is welcome news, as one of the main reasons to consider a merger is the ability to provide more educational opportunities for students while preserving current staff and programs,” Mr. Brady said.

Going forward, Mr. Gregory said, a stable student enrollment is projected for the next 10 years.

“I would not envision many changes in staffing going forward,” he said. “Should instructional or operational needs change, attrition would be the preferred action.”

According to the consultants’ analysis, the average prekindergarten-to-fifth-grade class size would be 21.6. Class size in the core subjects would be about 21.3 for middle school and 21.5 for high school.

Since the 2008-09 school year, Canton and Potsdam combined have eliminated more than 100 faculty and staff jobs, including 76.5 teaching positions and 24.4 staff positions.

In its report to the Joint Advisory Committee, the consultants said, “It was recognized that these reductions, equating to over $6 million, may preclude any major potential reductions in teaching faculty that may ordinarily be achieved through a merger, as both schools are currently operating at minimum essential levels.”

School officials have said merging the two districts would help preserve academic and other programs from further cuts and possibly restore some of the programs that were cut.

“Our analysis indicates that we would need additional teaching staff to provide instruction in a merged district,” Mr. Brady said. “This is due to the fact that both districts have already made substantial cuts to staffing over the last several years.”

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