A public information session regarding the proposed merger of the Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk school districts took place at Herkimer Junior-Senior High School on Wednesday night.
Throughout the meeting the districts’ superintendents urged community members to express their opinion and vote in the straw vote on Sept. 12, and addressed several topics, including enrollment, geography, facilities, staffing, curriculum, transportation and finances.
Ilion Superintendent of Schools Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. addressed concerns about enrollment.
“If the three districts merge there will be 3,500 students enrolled from grades K-12. This number is 25 percent fewer students than the previous year’s four district merger proposal,” he said.
If approved, the facilities will be broken down into a number of different schools. Each district would keep one pre-kindergarten to fourth grade elementary building, then grades 5-6 would attend the current Jarvis Junior-Senior High School in Mohawk, grades 7-8 would attend the current Herkimer Junior-Senior High School and grades 9-12 would attend the current Ilion Junior-Senior High School.
While explaining the merged school district’s facilities Mohawk Superintendent of Schools Joyce Caputo addressed a concern brought up during last month’s information session.
“Because many people were concerned about the safety of their students, we have added a resource officer that will remain on site at the high school,” she said.
During the June public information session in Mohawk questions were raised about what the merged district’s curriculum would look like. Wednesday night, Caputo said the merged district would offer new courses that each of the three schools currently do not have. “Students will be offered a more enriched curriculum full of new opportunities that will help them to become more academically competitive as a whole,” she said. “Through the merger there will a possibility of 51 new class electives available from grades 7-12, as well as additional extracurricular activities, sports and music.”
Transportation was also discussed during the session.
“In the merged school district no child will be on a bus for more than 45 minutes,” said interim Herkimer Superintendent of Schools Gary Tutty, adding currently some bus routes within the three districts run up to 45 minutes. He also said due to concerns about younger students riding with older students, students in grades K-4 will be bused separately from students in grades 7-12.
“If the merger is successful and passes the community vote there is a possibility the combined district could receive $59,935,009 in additional incentive aid,” said Tangorra, adding if the merger is approved, property taxes would be reduced for residents of the current Herkimer and Mohawk school districts, while property taxes for residents of the current Ilion school district would remain the same.
“Through the merger the combined school district will receive additional aid that is more than many are used to, and we have stick to the merger plan and be careful not to be led to temptation,” said Tangorra. “It might seem like a good idea to use the aid to add even more courses, but it would be pointless to add something that could be cut in four to six years due to financial issues.”
Page 2 of 2 - Throughout the information session the three superintendents reminded the community members the merger decision is in their hands. “All three districts have made many cuts and right now the choice is either a three district merger or to make even more cuts,” said Tutty.
“We’re not telling you how to vote, but we need you to make a decision and vote either for or against the merger,” added Caputo.
Final comments were made by members of the citizens advisory committee.
“We are you. We’re parents, working moms and dads, Bombers, Magicians and Mohicans,” said Dale Miller. “As the advisory committee we looked at every possible outcome and left no stone unturned. We want to be a resource to you and we want to make sure you vote and get others to vote.”
Committee member Father Mark Cunningham said everyone should consider what is best for students when making a decision on the proposed merger. “Many students are offered Advanced Placement and other advanced courses, but due to our financial aid allowance individually, our schools can not afford to offer these programs,” he said. “If we continue on this way, our students will not be as academically competitive compared to other students when they are ready to attend college.”
The next public information session on the merger will take place at 6 p.m. on Aug. 9 at Ilion Junior-Senior High School. Tours of the facility will be given before the meeting at 5:30 p.m.