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Canton and Potsdam School Merger Proposal Heads to Public Vote

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CANTON — The Canton Central School board cleared the way Thursday evening for the public to get its first chance to vote on the proposed merger with neighboring Potsdam Central School.

The board voted 8-0 to hold a nonbinding straw poll vote Oct. 30. The Potsdam school board approved the measure Tuesday evening.

Residents in both communities will have a chance to cast their ballots that day on whether the two districts should continue the path of dissolving their individual districts and merging into one district.

The October vote will be nonbinding, but if it passes in both districts, a final vote will be held Dec. 16. The merger will proceed only if the second vote is approved by residents in both districts.

Canton school board members said their unanimous vote to hold the straw poll vote doesn’t mean they all support following through with the merger.

“I’m not saying this is good or bad,” said Phillip J. Burnett, school board member. “At this point we’re just saying yes to move it forward so the public can have a vote.”

School Superintendent William A. Gregory said school officials will spend the next few months meeting with civic groups and holding town hall-style meetings to help educate the public about the merger proposal.

Although much of the information is available on both the Canton and Potsdam district websites, Mr. Gregory said face-to-face meetings with different stakeholder groups also are important.

“We want to make sure the public is fully informed so they can make an informed decision,” he said.

Faced with declining revenues and rising costs, last spring school boards from the two districts decided to explore the idea of merging into one district. If the districts merge, the state is supposed to provide $35 million in incentive aid over a 14-year period.

A comprehensive merger study released June 19 concluded a combined district has the potential to save money, reduce property taxes and improve educational opportunities for students.

Consultants recommended that each district continue to operate its own elementary school for prekindergarten to fifth grade. Students in grades six to eight in both districts would attend middle school in Canton. All high school students in the merged district would attend school in Potsdam.

Before the vote, Victor N. Rycroft was elected school board president and Shannon M. Mattice was elected vice president. Newly elected school board members Patrick G. Hanss, Margaret Sweeney and Phillip J. Burnett were sworn into office.

Mr. Rycroft said he hopes the public will learn as much as possible about the merger option before it votes.

“I hope people stay open minded until it’s time to vote,” he said. “I’ve heard some people say they’re voting for it and others say they’re not.”

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