By BENNY FAIRCHILD
POTSDAM - The Potsdam Central School Board of Education voted 8-0 to move forward with its proposed merger with the Canton Central School District, setting an October date for a preliminary referendum in October.
Potsdam Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said he had some concerns with the referendum being held on the Thursday after the general election, so he suggested moving it up a week to Oct.30.
The referendum has previously been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 6.
“The general election is two days prior, and I’m a little bit concerned about asking the public to come out and vote twice in one week,” he said. “I have raised that concern with Bill Gregory (Canton sSuperintendent) and if we go forward with this resolution tonight that will be one change.”
Board of Education Vice President Christopher C. Cowen asked why the merger vote couldn’t be held on the same day as the general election.
“Typically with these elections there is one polling place in each district, whereas with the general election there would be multiple polling places,” Mr. Brady said. “If it’s on the ballot in some places, but not in others that could lead to some confusion.”
Prior to the vote, Mr. Brady noted the study recommended moving forward with the merger.
“Through the work of the joint advisory committee and the many open meetings we had, the consultants said there would be enhanced opportunity for students at a reduced cost to taxpayers,” he said.
While the vote to move forward with the merger process received unanimous support from the eight board members present, two members of the board, J. Patrick Turbett and Frederick C. Stone Jr., both said they had concerns with the merger itself.
“We as a nine member body should not be the ones to make this decision,” Mr. Stone said, adding he wants to see members of the public make the decision.
Mr. Stone also said that he would be unlikely to vote in favor of the merger.
“It was a well thought out, well executed plan. However, I don’t believe this is sustainable,” he said. “Concurrent with this, I believe there should be a five-year plan for a future board to look at. Personally I’m against it, but I’ll vote to send it to the public.”
Mr. Turbett agreed.
“I’ll vote to send it to the public,” he said. “I don’t want to stand in their way. I think it is our job to order the study, make sure it gets done and send it to the public.”
Like Mr. Stone, Mr. Turbett said he had concerns with the financial future of a merged district, which Mr. Stone noted would “go into the red” in year four, according to the study.
Following the meeting, Mr. Brady said he feels like the board made the correct decision.
“I do think the board made the right decision in moving the issue forward so the Potsdam community have a voice in the future of the district,” he said, adding he believes the decision made by board members Tuesday night is likely the most difficult one they’ll have to make in their board careers.
“This is probably one of the toughest decisions that any board would be asked to make for their community,” he said. “In a way it’s unfortunate that with cut backs in state aid and the lack of mandate relief, our districts have been placed in this precarious situation.”
Mr. Brady said he wasn’t surprised to hear that some board members may not be in favor of the merger.
“I think within the board though there is going to be a difference of opinion on the study and that is reflective of how the community feels about this question,” he said.
Should both the Canton and Potsdam communities vote to move forward with the merger in October, a final, binding resolution will be held on Dec. 16. Should both communities approve the merger then, a new district will be created and begin operation on July 1, 2015.