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Resident questions why Canton not considering merger with Hermon-DeKalb

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CANTON - A Canton Central school district resident Monday evening pressed School Superintendent William A. Gregory about why the idea of merging with neighboring Hermon-DeKalb Central School District was not discussed publicly after a request was made last spring.

Scott M. Davis was among about 55 residents who turned out for a town hall style meeting Monday evening to gather input about the proposed merger of Canton and Potsdam school districts.

During public comment, Mr. Davis questioned why he could not find any record in Canton school board minutes regarding a request the Hermon-DeKalb school board sent in April to the Canton school board regarding the possibility the two districts merge or share services.

“They (Hermon-Dekalb) has under 400 students and they could fit right inside our district. I didn’t see anything about that in your board minutes and there’s a lot of minutiae in your minutes,” Mr. Davis said. “That seems like a pretty feasible option that I don’t think the public is aware of.”

Mr. Davis said he was told by Hermon-DeKalb School Superintendent Ann M. Adams and Hermon-DeKalb School Board President Richard Hamilton that their district sent a letter to the Canton school board about sharing or merging opportunities. He said he found a record of the request in Hermon-Dekalb school board minutes.

Mr. Gregory said the Hermon-DeKalb request was discussed “informally” by the Canton school board, but was not given more serious consideration because Canton was already talking about pursuing a merger study with Potsdam.

“We were already in those discussions,” the superintendent said.

Various factors were considered in picking Potsdam, including the several similarities between the two communities, such as both being college towns with roughly the same size student enrollments, he said.

Mr. Gregory said he believes there’s also a perception by smaller school districts that they would “get gobbled up” if they merge with a larger school district. Transporting all Hermon-Dekalb students to Canton didn’t seeem feasible because of the long distance some students would have to travel.

Canton school board member Victor Rycroft also said the Hermon-DeKalb request was discussed “informally.”

During public forums, some community members have questioned why Canton is considering merging with another large school district instead of combining with a smaller district like Hermon-DeKalb or Edwards-Knox.

Another community member, Jeremy M. Filitrault, said the public needs to understand what’s at stake if they vote down the merger so they can make an informed decision when they go to the polls.

“The fastest way to make it real is to put a slide up there that shows what’s going to happen,” he said.

With the Canton district facing a $2.1 million budget gap next school year, Mr. Gregory said the district may be forced to make drastic cuts including teaching jobs that lead to larger class sizes, sports, art, music and other non-mandated programs such as pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

“I’ll do the best I can to get that information out. There has to be a dose of reality,” Mr. Gregory said.

If the Potsdam and Canton agree to merge, the state is supposed to provide $35 million in incentive aid over the next 14 years.

Another town hall style meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in Potsdam.

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