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The Telegram
  • Study: Merger offers opportunities for students

  • Opportunities for students, both in and outside the classroom, emerged Thursday evening as the strongest factor in favor of a proposed merger of the Ilion and Mohawk school districts.

    The Ilion Junior-Senior High School auditorium was the site of the second of two public forums on the proposed merger leading up to the Feb. 12 vote on the plan.

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  • Opportunities for students, both in and outside the classroom, emerged Thursday evening as the strongest factor in favor of a proposed merger of the Ilion and Mohawk school districts.
    The Ilion Junior-Senior High School auditorium was the site of the second of two public forums on the proposed merger leading up to the Feb. 12 vote on the plan.
    Ilion School Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. and Mohawk Interim Superintendent Gene Beirne outlined the information contained in the merger study prepared by the community advisory committee made up of residents of both districts.
    The superintendents and members of the CAC then fielded questions from those in attendance.
    Tangorra said the study now includes a chart listing all of the courses offered by both or either of the districts. The plan calls for including all of these courses, which would be available to all of the students in a merged district. A total of 120 possible classes could be offered to students in grades 7-12.
    “I’ve had students from Mohawk who have gone away to college come back and say they’re going to classes with students who have had these courses already,” Beirne said. “If nothing else happens, if the merger goes through, there would be more course offerings.”
    One woman said her tenth grade daughter was upset to learn her schedule included two study halls a day, which amounted to an hour and a half of her school day.
    Beirne said similar concerns had been expressed at the forum in Mohawk.
    One mother said her student was unable to take chemistry because it was only offered in the afternoon when she was taking a course at BOCES.
    “Chemistry is a singleton in our school,” he said, adding there aren’t enough students to offer two sections of the class. With a merger, that problem would likely be alleviated.
    Tangorra said while it would be unrealistic to add courses and programs that could not be sustained over the long haul, the study does call for preserving current program and possibly restoring some cuts.
    “Mohawk students have a great opportunity here,” said CAC member Matt Obreza.
    He added community members had asked to see a list of courses and program and that now appears in the study.
    “Anything that is currently being offered in either school would be offered,” said Obreza.
    This would also make clubs and other extracurricular activities available to all students in the merged district.
    Both superintendents urged residents to review the study carefully and come out to vote for what they think would be best for the students in their respective communities.
    Among the questions raised were the following:
    Why close Remington Elementary School and why were renovations made to the building?
    Page 2 of 3 - The decision to close Remington school was made in part because Ilion’s Barringer Road Elementary School has a slightly larger capacity and because it made sense to have elementary schools in the western (Barringer Road) and eastern (Fisher Elementary in Mohawk) edges of the merged district, Tangorra said. He added the renovation work done on the building was part of a capital project approved in 2008 by district voters, prior to the board’s decision later that year to explore merger with Mohawk. He said the EXCEL money was available from the state and the upgrades were needed for the health and safety of the people who work and attend school there. The district is still paying for the school and receives aid for its debt service. Herkimer BOCES has expressed interest in leasing the building if it becomes available. If voters reject the merger, Ilion will remain open.
    If no staffing cuts are planned the first year, what happens to the Remington school staff?
    There would be a preference list under the transition plan, according to Beirne. Teachers would fill out a form listing their qualifications and preferences for placement. “The goal would be placement by seniority,” said Beirne, “but the needs of the district, the needs of the children would come first.” It was also noted Mohawk has an opening for a principal at Fisher Elementary School.
    How would the merger incentive aid, which would total $42,244.266 over a 14-year period, be used?
    Tangorra said the money would be used to equalize the tax rates between the two districts, to maintain or add to existing programs, keep the tax rates down and to pay down debt. Funds would also be used to cover the cost of moving classrooms and other work that would have to be done in preparation for the start of school in September. Beirne said under state guidelines, surplus funds can be moved into certain accounts and transferred in the future.
    How would uncertainties about the future of Remington Arms affect the district?
    “Remington Arms is an iconic manufacturer in Ilion,” said Tangorra. “It has put food on the tables of area families for close to two centuries. It would be criminal if Remington Arms left and would affect 1,300 people, not only in Ilion, but in the Valley. That said, Remington Arms’ share of Ilion’s tax levy is 1.4 percent and it would be .8 percent for the combined district.” To say the Arms contributes the majority of Ilion’s tax levy is “not mathematically accurate,” he said.
    How would the new district determine which pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students attend Barringer Road or Fisher School?
    A line would be drawn through the merged district with students on the eastern side attending Fisher and on the western side attending Barringer Road, said Tangorra. Precisely where the line would be has yet to be determined. Siblings would attend same school.
    Page 3 of 3 - How would the name of the district and school mascot be determined?
    A student committee would be formed to work on this project, Tangorra said. Beirne said the transition plan that includes this information should be posted on the school websites next week.
    What happens if the schools don’t merge?
    Both superintendents said their districts will face difficult decisions. While they would continue to operate, additional cuts would have to be made and there would be less they could offer students.
    What about differences in salaries?
    The current contracts with bargaining units would remain in effect until new contracts could be approved. Beirne said the Mohawk school board had recently reached an agreement with its teachers and whether or not the districts merge, both would be on the same schedule for the 2013 - 2014 school year.

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