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The Times
  • Petition denied; school merger vote on for Thursday

  • The state Education Department has denied a request to put a stay on the three school district merger vote scheduled for Thursday, but one of the petitioners in the complaint stated it doesn’t dismiss its allegations.

    “We received word today the commissioner has denied the application and the merger vote will go ahead as planned,” a statement from Ben Ferrara’s office read on Wednesday.

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  • The state Education Department has denied a request to put a stay on the three school district merger vote scheduled for Thursday, but one of the petitioners in the complaint stated it doesn’t dismiss its allegations.
    “We received word today the commissioner has denied the application and the merger vote will go ahead as planned,” a statement from Ben Ferrara’s office read on Wednesday.
    Ferrara is representing the Herkimer and Ilion school districts.
    Ferrara later said on Wednesday during a telephone interview, “We won the first part. They’re not issuing the stay and the vote is going forward.” He also said, “We’re pleased the election is going to go forward. We believe the districts should have the chance to vote.”
    Interim Herkimer Central School Superintendent Gary Tutty — who was not named in the complaint — said on Wednesday he “hopes for a good turnout tomorrow. I’m sure it will be.”
    Tutty declined to comment further.
    Ilion Central School Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. was unavailable for comment.
    Interim Mohawk Central School District Superintendent Gene Beirne said, “It’s a procedure we have to carry out,” in regards to the voting scheduled for Thursday.
    The petition was filed on Oct. 10 with the state Education Department by Dan Monohan, of Mohawk, Grace Osborne, of Ilion, and Ronald Edwards, of Herkimer; or one resident in each of the districts participating in the three school district merger vote Thursday.
    The complaint listed six respondents. They are Tangorra, Beirne, former Mohawk Central School Superintendent Joyce Caputo, Ilion and Mohawk Central School District Business Manager Kenneth Long, Mohawk school board member Vicki Coffin Judd and Herkimer school board member Diann Fischer.
    The petition alleges misconduct on part of the respondents since they supported the merger while being either school officials or members of the school board. It states the superintendents used taxpayer money to send out newsletters to “scare” people into voting for the merger.
    Also, it states Beirne, Judd and Fischer were all members of the community advisory committee at one time or another, which the petitioners say is a conflict. This committee reviewed the data sets that were part of the merger study.
    Besides asking the commissioner to put a stay on the merger vote, the complaint also asked:
    • To invalidate the results of the straw vote on Sept. 12;
    • A nullification of the petitions signed on or about Sept. 24 to go ahead with the binding vote; and
    • If the binding vote goes ahead and it is passed, the commissioner nullifies the results before reorganization on July 1, 2013.
    Members of the Friends of the Three District Merge voiced their frustration when they heard about the petition last week. Molly Bonnell, of Mohawk, responded to news on Wednesday about the stay being denied.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We were pleased to hear [state Education Commissioner John] King has rejected the effort to deny the people of our communities the right to cast their vote on such an important matter,” said Bonnell in an email. “The results of this vote directly impact every resident in Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk; their voices deserve to be heard. As we head to the polls, we hope voters will support the educational, extracurricular and athletic opportunities this merger will provide to all our students.”
    Monohan said attorneys had three days to file paperwork regarding the request to put a stay on the vote, but have approximately 20 days to appeal.
    “The stay was denied. We expected that,” he said during a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Normally, these type of things are dealt with after a vote. The rest of the petition is still alive, though. The allegations that are listed in that complaint, [the attorneys] did not respond to the complaints that were made in the petition.”
    Monohan said he is optimistic about whatever happens in regards to the vote Thursday.
    “Whether the vote is successful, my sincere hope, regardless, is that everybody will put forth the energy that we have shown both ‘for’ and ‘against’ and put that towards demanding a more equitable state aid formula,” he said. “When it’s done and over with, I hope we look out for the best interest of the students. I love a good debate. This is a good debate that we had to have. The talking is over. The vote is tomorrow. We’re all going to be OK regardless of the way it goes.”

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