The Ilion and Mohawk boards of education passed a resolution during a joint session Wednesday evening to request special legislation to allow them to hold a vote on merging their districts sooner than allowed by state law.
The resolution states the special legislation would be “so that the voters may have the opportunity to approve such a reorganization to take effect at the beginning of the 2013 - 2014 school year.”
The move comes nearly a week after a vote to merge the Ilion and Mohawk school districts with the Herkimer school district was voted down by Herkimer residents by less than 200 votes.
The binding referendum, however, passed in both Ilion and Mohawk.
All members present from the two school boards voted in favor of the resolution except for Mohawk school board member Lori Sementilli.
“I think we need as much information as possible before making any decision about where to head,” said Sementilli, before voting against the resolution. “I would like to go through the information that would change.”
While the public was invited to attend the meeting at the Jarvis Junior-Senior High School Media Center, Mohawk Board of Education President James Fleming stated the session was for board discussion and not for public comment. About 30 people attended the meeting.
For about half an hour, the boards discussed their options with the merger defeated and some of the reasons people may have voted it down.
The Ilion school board then voted unanimously in favor of the resolution before heading into executive session. The Mohawk school board also adjourned for executive session to discuss the resolution further. When both boards reconvened about a half hour later, the Ilion school board conducted its own business to award bids for the second phase of a capital project. Mohawk then took its own vote on the resolution.
“It is my recommendation to the school board that after discussion with board members and the attorney that we endorse the resolution,” said interim Mohawk Superintendent Gene Beirne.
“It’s a very dangerous precedent to set, to ask the legislation to change or amend or to bring into play new laws just because of special circumstances,” said Sementilli during a telephone interview on Thursday. She noted the things that would change in just a two district merger, such as the state aid incentive, the building configuration and the courses that would be offered.
Ilion Central School Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. noted the chances were slim it would pass, but added, “Time is of the essence. We continue to feel that it’s our only opportunity to hang on to as much programming, and possibly enhanced programs, given the financial situation we’re facing.”
He has said the district is projecting a $1.5 million gap between revenue and expenditures for the 2013 - 2014 school year.
Page 2 of 2 - Beirne said during the meeting there are already “crude projections” of what next year’s budget would look like, but did not get into details.
The next step, now that the resolution is passed, is forwarding the resolution to state officials including state Assemblyman Marc Butler, R - Newport, and state Sen. James Seward, R - Oneonta.
Before the meeting took place, Butler said he would be willing to consider the legislation if it asked for an acceleration in the voting process.
“I would be certainly much more inclined to try and do that,” he said. “I understand the schools want to place themselves in a position to get this in place for the next school year. I would have the opportunity to make a special case because of the financial constraints.”
Residents of the Ilion and Mohawk school districts have voted to merge three times in the past 10 months. First they approved of doing so in the January straw vote which included Herkimer and Frankfort-Schuyler. After Frankfort-Schuyler voted it down, Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk approved of a straw vote in September and then Ilion and Mohawk voted yes again in the binding vote last week.
Ilion’s next school board meeting is Nov. 13 and the Mohawk school board will meet again on Nov. 5.
Contributing: GateHouse News Service