New York State Department of Education Commissioner John King, Jr. has given the Ilion and Mohawk school districts a tentative date of Feb. 12 for a merger vote.
Monday evening, residents questioned the members of the Mohawk Central School Board of Education about the proposed timeline, with some saying they feel the merger process is moving too fast and others saying they are comfortable with it since it is something they have devoted years to.
“As a member of the citizens advisory committee, it’s not very fast when you look at it how long this has been talked about,” said Mohawk resident Melissa Burns. “I’ve been on the committee for two years and the reasons for merging are still the same. They haven’t changed.”
“I’m a little shocked this is all moving ahead so fast,” said Mohawk resident Maryann Cirillo, who aired concerns over the dissemination of information and the scheduling of community forums during the meeting. “I hope everyone is given enough advance notice of when the forums will take place.”
The original merger plan in August 2009 involved the Ilion and Mohawk school districts, but soon afterward the Frankfort-Schuyler and Herkimer school districts were added to the study.
Frankfort-Schuyler voters rejected a four-school merger in an advisory vote on Jan. 19, 2012, and Herkimer voters rejected a three-school merger in an Oct. 18, 2012 binding vote.
Each district has until Monday to have a petition signed by 100 qualified voters, or a number of voters equal to 10 percent of student enrollment, asking the state education commissioner to call a special meeting to conduct a special vote on the merger, said interim Mohawk Superintendent of Schools Gene Beirne. Mohawk also must have a petition requesting an alternate voting site, he said.
“A lot of things need to be completed before the vote takes place,” said Beirne. “The feasibility study has to be finalized. The dates for the two community forums have to be set. The citizens advisory committee has to meet. The poll workers have to be put in place. There’s a lot to do.”
Beirne added a meeting between officials from the Ilion and Mohawk school districts and members of the citizens advisory committee was scheduled to take place Tuesday. They were expected to discuss the availability of the feasibility study and the scheduling of the community forums, he said.
Answering questions posed by residents Monday evening, Beirne said the Ilion and Mohawk school districts began revising the three-district study immediately after the three boards of education voted to ask King to rescind his order laying out the original Herkimer - Ilion - Mohawk district.
“The basic elements of the study, as outlined by the community advisory committee, remain unchanged. As before, the study looks at six specific areas — demographics and enrollment, facilities and geography, academic and extracurricular program, staffing, transportation and finances,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - Beirne also answered questions of what the merged district would look like, saying pre-kindergarten to fourth grade students would attend either Fisher Elementary or Barringer Road Elementary, fifth through eighth grade students would attend the current Jarvis Junior - Senior High School and ninth through twelfth grade students would attend the current Ilion Junior - Senior High School. He said regardless of whether or not the merger is passed, Remington Elementary School would close.
Specific information will be available when the feasibility study has been finalized, he said.
Should voters approve the merger, Beirne said an election of members to the board of education would take place March 27. They would be responsible for preparing a budget for the May vote.
The merged district would begin operation on July 1 for the 2013 - 2014 school year, he said.
If the merger fails to gain voter approval, Mohawk Board of Education President James Fleming said district officials and school board members will be prepared to go it alone.
“If it doesn’t pass, we’ll be back to figuring out what we need to do as the Mohawk Central School District,” said Fleming. “That’s why throughout this process we will continue to develop a budget for the Mohawk school district and continue to make decisions that will benefit our students.”
In other business Monday evening, the board of education accepted the resignation of Fisher Elementary School Principal Colleen Vetere with regret, effective Jan. 4, as well as the retirement of English teacher Carl Hempel and math teacher Mary Hempel, effective June 30, with regret.