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Canton and Potsdam merger would preserve teaching jobs

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POTSDAM — Merging Canton and Potsdam school districts could trim more than $750,000 in employment expenses without reducing the number of teachers, according to consultants hired to study the idea.

Members of the 28-member Joint Advisory Committee spent more than two hours Wednesday evening reviewing staffing projections and data related to employee contracts.

Combining the neighboring districts won’t result in significant job cuts because the two districts have spent the past several years cutting a total of 100 positions and there’s little left to trim, said Douglas B. Hamlin, a consultant from Western New York Educational Council, Buffalo.

“This is not about what you get in a merger,” Mr. Hamlin said. “It’s about not losing more. If you go back seven years and look at all the cuts, you’ve been saving every year.”

According to the data, the merged district could result in a net loss of eight jobs and save $754,732 in salaries and benefit expenses. Total staffing could decrease from 504 to 496 jobs.

Proposed reductions include $177,323 in district administration costs. Cuts would include a superintendent’s job and two building principal positions. In exchange, the consultants recommended that two assistant principal jobs be created.

They also recommended adding one and a half teaching jobs at a cost of $92,154. The total teaching staff would increase from 193.5 to 195, according to the proposal.

Other staff cuts include $214,925 from the district business office, $121,207 from building staffs, $29,860 from instructional support/services, $194,482 from buildings and grounds, $8,372 from transportation operations, $55,323 from food service and $45,394 from athletic coaches.

Regarding employee contracts, if a new district is created, new agreements would have to be negotiated with various employee unions.

“Negotiations are often difficult, regardless if there’s a merger or not,” said Roger D. Gorham, consultant. “If both the unions and the district recognize it’s a unique situation, generally negotiations are designed to make it work. I think that would be case the here.”

The boards of education from both Potsdam and Canton are scheduled to hold a joint board meeting at 7 tonight in Potsdam. They will receive a mid-study update from the consultants.

Town hall meetings to discuss the feasibility study are scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in the Canton high school auditorium and 7 p.m. Tuesday in Potsdam. The Joint Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet again April 7 at Canton Central’s high school library to discuss transportation, food service and fiscal data. The final meeting will be a wrap-up session May 7 at the Potsdam high school library where recommendations are supposed to discussed.

Following the May meeting, a draft feasibility report will be submitted to the state Education Department. If accepted by state officials, the report would be released in June to the Canton and Potsdam school boards. If the school boards decide to move forward, two public votes are required: a non-binding “straw” vote slated for November and a final vote tentatively scheduled for February 2015. If approved, a new district would be elected in March 2015 and the new district would begin July 1, 2015.

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