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Resident questions why Canton school district is not considering merger with Hermon-DeKalb

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CANTON — A resident on Monday evening questioned Canton Central School District Superintendent William A. Gregory about why the idea of merging with neighboring Hermon-Dekalb was not discussed publicly after a request was made last spring.

Scott M. Davis was among about 55 residents who attended a town hall-style meeting to gather input about the proposed merger of Canton and Potsdam school districts.

Mr. Davis questioned why he could not find any record in Canton Board of Education meeting minutes regarding a request from the Hermon-DeKalb Central School board in April regarding the possibility of merging or sharing services.

Hermon-Dekalb has fewer than 400 students “and they could fit right inside our district,” Mr. Davis said. “I didn’t see anything about that in your board minutes, and there’s a lot of minutiae in your minutes. That seems like a pretty feasible option that I don’t think the public is aware of.”

Mr. Davis said he was told by Hermon-DeKalb Superintendent Ann M. Adams and school board President Richard Hamilton that their district wrote to the Canton school board about sharing or merging opportunities. He said he found a record of the request in Hermon-Dekalb’s school board meeting minutes.

Mr. Gregory said the Hermon-DeKalb request was discussed “informally” by the Canton board, but was not given more serious consideration because Canton already was talking about pursuing a merger study with Potsdam.

“We were already in those discussions,” the superintendent said.

Canton school board member Victor Rycroft also said the Hermon-DeKalb request was discussed “informally.”

Various factors were considered in choosing Potsdam, including the similarities between the two communities given that both are college towns and enroll roughly the same number of students, Mr. Gregory said.

Some residents have questioned why Canton is considering merging with another large school district instead of combining with a smaller district such as Hermon-DeKalb or Edwards-Knox.

Mr. Gregory said he believes smaller school districts perceive they would “get gobbled up” if they merge with a larger school district. And transporting all Hermon-Dekalb students to Canton didn’t seem feasible because of the long distance some students would have to travel.

Another community member, Jeremy M. Filitrault, said residents need to understand what’s at stake if they vote down the merger. “The fastest way to make it real is to put a slide up there that shows what’s going to happen,” he said.

With the Canton district facing a $2.1 million budget gap next school year, Mr. Gregory said, the district may be forced to make drastic cuts including sports, art, music, other non-mandated programs such as pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, and teaching jobs, which could lead to larger class sizes.

“I’ll do the best I can to get that information out. There has to be a dose of reality,” Mr. Gregory said.

If Potsdam and Canton agree to merge, the state is supposed to provide $35 million in incentive aid over the next 14 years.

Another town hall-style meeting is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday in Potsdam.

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