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The Times
  • Three-district school merger voted down

  • Herkimer voters rejected the three school district merger plan by less than 200 votes after an intense few weeks of campaigning on both sides of the issue.

    The final results were announced inside the Ilion Jr.-Sr. High School auditorium after nearly three hours of tallying. The results were 1,174 yes and 1,346 no in Herkimer; 1,260 yes and 788 no in Ilion; and 1,124 yes and 537 no. in Mohawk.

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  • Herkimer voters rejected the three school district merger plan by less than 200 votes after an intense few weeks of campaigning on both sides of the issue.
    The final results were announced inside the Ilion Jr.-Sr. High School auditorium after nearly three hours of tallying. The results were 1,174 yes and 1,346 no in Herkimer; 1,260 yes and 788 no in Ilion; and 1,124 yes and 537 no. in Mohawk.
    The proposal passed by a margin of more than two-to-one in Mohawk andnearly 62 percent of Ilion voters supported the plan, but Herkimer, where the merger was most strongly contested, rejected the plan by 172 votes.
    More than 6,200 people within the three school districts participated in Thursday’s binding referendum, or about 1,000 more than those who did in the advisory referendum in September.
    The number of those who voted against the merger in Herkimer on Thursday rose by more than 500 votes from the September straw vote, and only 14 more were in favor. This means about 97 percent of the new Herkimer voters on Thursday voted against the merger.
    Those against the merger had become more vocal about their opinion since the straw vote took place, by placing signs on front yards, writing letters to the editor and posting their opinions on Facebook. Protesters, which included Herkimer High School students, carried signs and shouted for people to vote down the merger outside of Herkimer High School on Thursday, where the vote took place.
    Dan Monohan, of Mohawk, spoke out against the merger.
    He said there needed to be a good debate on the issue.
    “But they had their say. I respect that. Time to move on. I’d be making the same statement if the merger vote had passed,” he said.
    Monohan was also one of three petitioners who asked the state Education Department last week to put a stay on the vote, citing among other things taxpayer money was improperly used by school officials to “scare” people into voting in favor of the merger.
    Monohan said he and the other two petitioners — Grace Osborne, of Ilion, and Ronald Edwards, of Herkimer — will have to decide on how to proceed with the petition.
    “All our intention was to verify this whole thing was handled in a correct manner,” he said.
    Jason Richard, of Herkimer, had also been outspoken about the merger the past few weeks. Specifically, his concerns were with the socio-economic impact a merger would have on the town and village of Herkimer without having a high school within its municipality. The merger study placed the high school students in Ilion.
    “The people spoke and it’s time to move forward,” said Richard on Friday morning.
    Dale Miller, who had been a member of the community advisory committee and of the pro-merger group Friends of the Three District Merge, said he wants to see those who opposed the vote take responsibility for what they decided.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The bottom line is I’m a big believer in democracy and the vote is what it is,” he said. “The voters in Herkimer were given a choice between more opportunities for our kids, access to funding to reduce taxes and more classes and sports, or to not do that. And they opted not to do that.”
    Miller also said, “I think the people that promoted that portion of the equation — the opposition — now have to own that this is what they voted for. So now when these things occur, the people that were behind this ... they were the ones who cost them jobs, sports and extracurricular activities.”
    Miller also said the school board should stay within the two percent tax increase cap in the 2013 - 2014 school budget. He said the results showed “they do not want those extra things, that extra money. They’d rather live with the potential for cuts, which was made very clear by the board.”
    The merger issue started in December 2009, when Ilion and Mohawk began talking about a reorganization study between the two districts again. The Frankfort-Schuyler and Herkimer school districts also wanted to be a part of the same study. By December 2010, all four school districts had agreed to a reorganization study and had selected SES Study Teamto do the work for the study.
    After another year of members of the community advisory committee reviewing data sets provided by the SES Study Team, the school boards went forward with having the people vote on a merger. In January, Frankfort-Schuyler residents voted it down.
    It was then revised for the three remaining districts, all of which passed the plan in September. The binding vote on Thursday would have finalized the merger.
    The law says each of the districts in the binding resolution have to wait at least a year to conduct any kind of talk about reorganization.
    Ilion School District Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. said he didn’t want to wait that long.
    “I would recommend to my board of education that we get special legislation,” he said, that if passed by the legislature in Albany might allow Mohawk and Ilion to proceed with a merger.
    “I don’t think the children of the Ilion Central School District need to be held down any more,” Tangorra said.
    Contributing: GateHouse News Service

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