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Canton superintendent Bill Gregory explains the how and why of a potential merger. Photo: Sarah Harris
Canton superintendent Bill Gregory explains the how and why of a potential merger. Photo: Sarah Harris

Canton-Potsdam school merger: what's happening now?

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School districts across the state are being pressured to consolidate or share services. If you live in Canton or Potsdam, you've probably heard the rumblings about a possible merger of the two school districts. But where are the schools in the process? And how will the decision to merge ultimately be made?

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Potsdam superintendent Pat Brady says there’s one thing everybody should know about the possible merger: 

"Why we’re doing this. And it is that we want to be sure that we can maintain the quality of program and opportunity for our students."

Brady says the districts are worried about money. If they merge, they’ll be eligible for $35 million in state aid over the next 14 years.

"With the financial situation as it has been and with the governors proposal continues to be, we are concerned for that future and we have to look at every option," he explains. 

Brady says he’s fielding a lot of questions from the community.

"Questions such as the process, understanding that in the end it will be the right of the public to vote, we get questions about the size of the district – people are concerned about the amount of time that students might spend on a bus."

On a cold night last week in the Canton high school auditorium, superintendent Bill Gregory scrolls through a slideshow packed with charts and graphs on enrollment, courses offerings, and class sizes. He says the combined Canton-Potsdam district would actually be 221 square miles - smaller than many others in the region.

"Just a point of comparison Saranac Lake is 639 square miles," Gregory told the audience. "I said to the faculty they must be flying their kids in there because that’s a pretty big piece of ground they’re covering."  

Gregory also explains the merger process. The upcoming merger committee meeting will be number four in a series of  seven meetings.

In May the committee will make a recommendation to the school boards on whether or not the merger should go forward.

"That’s really a first decision point. Each board mustindep decide whether they want to move forward with the next step. If either board decides not to do that, the process stops." 

Nellie Coakley asks what the effect of a merger will be on students. Photo: Sarah Harris
Nellie Coakley asks what the effect of a merger will be on students. Photo: Sarah Harris
Next comes a referendum, Gregory explains, one in Canton,  one in Potsdam.  

"Again, both communities individually must approve of the merger moving forward. If either community decides no, the process stops."

If people agree that the merger should go forward, the BOCES superintendent will ask the state education department to form a new district.  

The department then draws the lines and issues a call to vote. Gregory says the communities would likely vote this coming December.

The audience has thoughtful questions about the merger.

Phil Burnett from Rensslaer Falls wants to know what will happen after the state aid is fully distributed.

"What happens at the end of 15 years?" Burnett asked. "We are now a district that is spending X amount of dollars including the $35 million they give us. How will we maintain the same things we have at that point without making a large tax increase?"

Nellie Coakley is from Canton. She says it feels like the schools have done their homework as far as budgets and course offerings are concerned. But she’s worried about the kids. 

"I’d really like to take a look at the student himself or herself as to what the impact of the merger will be on the individual," Coakley said. 

Potsdam superintendent Phil Brady says the committee still has a lot to figure out before it makes a recommendation. He’s hopeful. 

"One of the things that excites me about this is that I look at what Canton has to offer and what Potsdam offers and the possibilities of what could be provided to our students if were in a consolidated school district."

The next merger committee meeting is on Feburary 10th. They’ll discuss athletics, extracurriculars, and facilities. All merger meetings are open to the public.

 

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