With the vote on whether the Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk school districts should merge slated for next week, strong opinions have come out from both sides of the issue.
Through organized group meetings, social media websites, radio interviews, “Yes” or “No” signs placed in front yards and dozens of letters to the editor, community members have been saturated with opinions on the merger proposal.
The merger study started out as a reorganizational study between the Mohawk and Ilion school districts, when the Herkimer and Frankfort-Schuyler school districts wanted to be included.
With the help of a state grant, a four district merger study was conducted over nearly a year with a community advisory committee — 16 members from each district representing a different section of their community — reviewing data sets provided by the SES Study Group. In January, Frankfort-Schuyler voters turned down the merger proposal during a straw vote.
In September, after a revised study was put together by the SES Study Group including only Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk, voters in all three districts passed the straw vote. This has paved the way for the binding referendum vote next Thursday. This would be the last step for voters in forming a new school district.
Dale Miller, of Herkimer, first got involved with the merger study in January 2011 as a member of the community advisory committee. He said he has since become an advocate for the merger, and is a member of the Friends of the Three District Merger. Miller said he came to his decision after months of reviewing the information provided.
“I view merging as clearly the single best option we have,” he said.
Miller added, “In the end, the schools are clearly at a fiscal problem. With the two percent tax cap, the loss of federal and state dollars, we’re faced with some difficult choices.”
Stephen Gloo, also a member of the Friends of the Three District Merger, said he had his doubts when he first started with the community advisory committee.
“I thought I was going to be against the merger,” he said. “But over the last two years, Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk lost a combined $6.8 million in state aid and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better. It’s going to get worse.”
Jason Richard, of Herkimer, said his concerns started to grow after the advisory referendum in September.
“In talking to people I know, a lot of people had the same ideas I did. I couldn’t understand why there was only one side of the story,” he said. “So I started doing my own research.”
Richard said he has particular concerns over the socioeconomic impact the merger would have on Herkimer, especially with the high school being moved to Ilion.
Page 2 of 2 - “The merger study is being put on top of a problem, and it pillars out into three problems: Advanced Placement courses, graduation rates and funding,” he said. “It’s not fixing any of these problems.”
Dan Monohan, of Mohawk, had a combined 15 years on the Mohawk Board of Education. He said the district has been involved with several merger studies over the past 25 years, including with Herkimer, Owen D. Young, Richfield Springs and Ilion.
“Having been through the number of studies in the past, I can say with experience this not a good thing for the future of the school,” he said.
The vote is scheduled for Oct. 18.
Eligible voters will be able to vote in their respective school districts.