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The 28-member joint advisory committee in the Potsdam High school library last fall. After a comprehensive study, school boards are voting on whether to put the merger question to the public. Photo: David Sommerstein.
The 28-member joint advisory committee in the Potsdam High school library last fall. After a comprehensive study, school boards are voting on whether to put the merger question to the public. Photo: David Sommerstein.

Canton and Potsdam school boards to vote on continuing merger process

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Canton and Potsdam school districts are considering merging. They hired an educational consulting firm out of Buffalo that spent the last school year determining whether it would be educationally and financially beneficial for the two schools to merge. Sarah Harris joined Martha Foley in the studio to talk about the study and how the merger process is going forward.

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Sarah Harris
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Martha Foley: What did the study find?

Sarah Harris: The report concludes that it would make educational and financial sense for the two districts to merge. Canton and Potsdam are similar districts with compatible strengths, and the study found that they could provide a richer education for students while creation efficiencies and saving money.

The study also looked at what would happen if the schools don’t merge. Canton and Potsdam both stand to run out of fund balance in the next three years. If the districts don’t merge, the report predicts they'd have to make even more serious budget cuts, increasing class sizes and basically cutting almost all non-mandated offerings. So a merger, the study says, makes sense.

MF: So now what happens?

SH: There’s a long process before the schools would actually merge and it’s just getting underway. Now, the Canton and Potsdam schools boards are voting on whether they think the public should vote on a merger. On Tuesday night, the Potsdam school board voted unanimously in support of a community vote on the merger. Tonight (Thursday), the Canton school board will vote. If Canton school boards votes to not send the vote to the community, then the merger process is over. If the Canton school boards votes in favor of having the community vote on the merger, then the process continues. If it continues, there will be a straw poll vote on October 30th. And if that passes, there will be a binding vote in December. And in between now and October, there are likely to be a lot more community meetings, ways for people to ask questions, that sort of things. 

MF: What challenges are there in this process?

SH: I think a big problem the schools have is making sure that the whole community really understands the stakes. The schools have worked hard to minimize the impact of budget cuts. So even though they're in a tough financial situation, it isn't always obvious to the casual observer, especially if you aren't following school news or don't have a kid in school. And the merger kind of exists as an idea that’s been bandied around the community ofr a long time but doesn’t quite feel real yet.

I spoke to Potsdam Superintendent Pat Brady yesterday.

"From talking to people in the community, I think there’s still a lot of questions. I think there’s still misinformation. If this process goes forward, it’s important that we provide more opportunities for answering questions from the community, providing more public input, and that’s our plan to do."

I asked Pat Brady what specifically he meant. He said they’re still planning the next phase of meetings, and they’re working on bolstering their website, maybe making some videos. But of course that’s all contingent on the vote tonight. 

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