Results for the proposed merger of three Mohawk Valley schools were still being counted Thursday night, as the polls remained open after the scheduled closing time of 8 p.m. to accomodate residents who arrived before voting ended to cast their ballot.
This was the second time voters in the Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk school districts have voted on the merger study. More than 5,200 residents within the three districts voted in the Sept. 12 advisory referendum, which was passed in all three communities. All three school districts needed to, again, pass the proposition to merge in the binding referendum to make it official.
The study — approved by state Education Commissioner John King — was revised after residents in the Frankfort-Schuyler Central School District voted down a similar study that included all four school districts during an advisory referendum in January.
A petition that requested the state Education Department put a stay on the binding merger vote was denied by King on Wednesday, so Thursday’s vote went forward as planned.
Since the September straw vote, those with opinions on both sides of the issue have become more vocal. Thursday morning, dozens of Herkimer High School students were pictured on a social media website holding “no” signs outside of the school. Interim Herkimer Central School Superintendent Gary Tutty said he received a call about the students protesting earlier in the day.
“I said as long as they are not disrupting anyone, though someone said they were being kind of loud ... The principal told them they still needed to be in class on time, which they were,” he said.
Other protesters stayed in a park across from the school throughout the day, at the intersection of German and Church streets, shouting at people to vote no on the merger and to “Save our schools!”
Larry Dack, of Herkimer, shouted, “It’s for the kids!” and “It’s about money!,” while holding up a “Vote No Merger” sign.
“Two percent of the budget is sports. The majority of the budget is teacher salary and pension. That’s where all the money is being spent,” said Dack, who lives in Herkimer, but has a child attending school in Frankfort-Schuyler. Dack also said he believes not all the options were “put on the table.”
The scene was somewhat more low key at the Mohawk and Ilion polling sites, where no protesting was reported.
School officials at each site said there seemed to be a steady turnout.
“There was a steady flow of voters,” said Charles Mower, one of the election workers at Gregory B. Jarvis Jr.-Sr. High School in Mohawk. “It’s about the same as the last election. Things are taking a little longer because of the sign-in process.”
“Except for the construction, the flow has been really steady, from noon on,” said Ilion Board of Education President Dan LaLonde at about 3:30 p.m. “In the first hour, we had about 200 people.”
Page 2 of 2 - In Herkimer, a line of voters stretched out into the hallway with some people waiting up to an hour and a half to vote at the Herkimer Jr.-Sr. High School Media Center.
“We’re definitely ahead of our pace from the last vote,” said Herkimer Assistant Superintendent Dick Young. He, too, said voting was slowed down by the sign-in process required by the state.
Voters coming out of the polls varied with their opinions.
“I voted yes,” said Carol Cole, in Ilion. “It’s the best thing for the school systems right now.”
Tanya Moynihan, of Ilion, and her husband Don, both voted no.
“There’s too many questions that are unanswered,” she said, naming the taxes and transportation. “How is it going to benefit the schools? What if the grant money doesn’t come through?”
Fred and Rose Hartmann, of Ilion, both voted yes.
“Because it’s the best thing for the students. They’ll have opportunities for education, as far as extracurricular, like band, music, arts and athletics,” said Fred Hartmann, who is a retired teacher. “Our grandparents paid for my education, and now it’s our turn to give back to the grandchildren.”
“I voted yes,” said John Luppino, a lifelong resident of Mohawk. “I believe it’s the way for education in the valley to improve.”