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The Telegram
  • New Ilion-Mohawk school district enters mostly uncharted territory

  • A new district combining Ilion and Mohawk schools becomes official July 1. Prior to that, the last merger was between Long Island school districts Eastport and South Manor, which combined to form Eastport-South Manor Central School District in 2004.

    The state Education Department outlines what school districts should do up until the election of school board members, then the guidance ends.

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  • School mergers mostly are uncharted territory.
    In the last 30 years there have been just 12 centralizations — school districts merging into one — of 34 total reorganizations in the state.
    A new district combining Ilion and Mohawk schools becomes official July 1. Prior to that, the last merger was between Long Island school districts Eastport and South Manor, which combined to form Eastport-South Manor Central School District in 2004.
    The state Education Department outlines what school districts should do up until the election of school board members, then the guidance ends.
    “The manner in which school districts are organized in New York state remains largely a matter of local determination,” the guidelines concluded.
    Barbara Bradley, deputy director of communications and research at the state School Boards Association, said she suspects that having no guidelines could be a challenge, but it could be a benefit, too.
    “One size does not necessarily fit all,” she said. “I have a recipe for chili, but I don’t always cook it the same way. Depending on what I have, sometimes I have to do things a little differently.”
    No real comparison
    Mark Nocero, superintendent of the Eastport-South Manor district, said financially and educationally it made sense for the two districts to merge.
    While those reasons run parallel to Mohawk and Ilion’s justification, Nocero said space was a challenge at South Manor because it didn’t have a high school. Eastport had similar issues.
    “I don’t even know where Eastport would have put the children,” he said if these two districts hadn’t merged. “We have portables (classrooms) that we’re finally taking down now.”
    Eastport-South Manor now has about 4,000 students.
    Mohawk and Ilion’s current combined enrollment is 2,339, and the merged district is looking to close Remington Elementary School in Ilion, sending students into Barringer or Fisher elementary schools.
    Sam Shevat was superintendent of the Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School District that was formed two decades ago.
    “Twenty years ago was a different world,” he said. “A lot has happened since then. I’m not sure that some of the same reasons that existed then exist now.”
    Shevat said that while finances and curriculum were the main considerations, the building aid was a huge draw.
    “Back then schools were not in as good a shape — the facilities — as schools are today,” he said.
    Community involvement
    Regardless of the reasoning behind a merger, community involvement is paramount.
    “People want and need information on what’s going on,” Bradley said.
    Shevat and Nocero said transition teams — similar to the ones formed for the Ilion-Mohawk district — were used to gather information for the nuts and bolts of the districts.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The students played a major role. They were involved in athletics, they were involved in picking new uniforms,” Shevat said. “That’s kind of what we recommended in the (merger study) as well.”
    Ilion-Mohawk also has a transition plan, which provides a timeline as well as the makeup of the 12 teams consisting of students, faculty and staff, and community members.
    During a recent Transportation Team meeting, members discussed several issues, including the boundaries for those who walk to school as well as how to determine bus routes.
    Team Chairman Chuck Mower was sure to include students on the team, asking one how they’d feel about walking a mile and a half to school.
    Later, Mohawk student Amanda Dahl, a junior, said Mower regularly makes sure they’re involved.
    “I think it makes the transition easier, because you’ll have a student’s input,” she said.

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