ARKPORT — Arkport and Canaseraga school boards will meet at 7 p.m. this Wednesday in Arkport to discuss jointly for the first time the proposed merger of the two schools.
The two boards have met separately for the past three months to discuss the merger and have agreed to unite sports programs.
The presidents, vice presidents and superintendents for the districts have been meeting together since March.
Long-term paths to merger of the two schools have been bumpy: Attempts at merger in the 1990s were each defeated by one vote, once in Canaseraga, the other in Arkport.
A proposal to merge Alfred-Almond with the two schools was defeated at the three schools two years ago. New York state incentives for that merger of Arkport, Canaseraga and Alfred-Almond amounted to millions of dollars over a seven-year post-merger period.
Half a dozen Canaseraga Central parents last month spoke fervently to board members in favor of the proposed merger, arguing that any delay could hasten the demise of a stand-alone Canaseraga Central.
At the meeting, Richard Kinney, Canaseraga board president, agreed: “We have the facts and figures from the exit poll; we need to make this happen. I‘m not sure we‘ll have another chance.”
The exit poll Kinney referred to was a May 16 survey where 57 percent or 116 of 203 Arkport voters preferred annexation while 60 percent or 65 of 109 Canaseraga voters desired centralization.
Thirteen percent or 26 Arkport voters and 14 percent or 15 Canaseraga voters had no preference.
A total of 72.5 percent of Arkport voters and 80 percent of Canaseraga voters completed the survey after finishing their 2017-18 school budget ballots.
The alternative “cost of doing nothing,” parent Jason Shambach said at a recent Canaseraga board meeting, “will be even more traumatic,” referring to statements about eventually closing the school.
Each speaker at that board meeting described the potentially merged Canaseraga-Arkport as an improvement. Several noted that some Canaseraga classes last school year had fewer than a dozen students, including the senior class with nine students.
If the two districts don’t merge, Daniela Shambach said, New York state might “come in and tear our community apart” with mandatory assignments of students to several other area schools. Daniela is the wife of Jason Shambach.
Canaseraga board member Jason Kernan said “If we vote down the merger proposal, we’ll need to raise taxes. I think the merger is a great thing.”
But, he added, he is “still concerned about annexation.”
Arkport Central has 450 enrolled students and Canaseraga 250, significant declines from enrollments of even a decade ago
Boards of the two schools officially merged athletic activities to offer students more sports opportunities. Merged Arkport and Canaseraga sports teams will begin competing in September.
The most contentious issue to merger of the two schools has been one word: annexation. For the districts to meet the New York state Education Department requirements for a merger study, boards must select a "method" of combining the school districts. The choices are centralization and annexation.
With annexation, the school board of the annexing district would remain and faculty and staff from the annexed district would move into appropriate bargaining unit contracts. Policies and procedures could be adjusted as needed, Canaseraga Superintendent Chad Groff said.
The schools would be unable to merge until at least July 1, 2018 because of several necessary approvals, said Jesse Harper, Arkport superintendent.
Canaseraga’s Kinney said that “trust” is an ingredient in any multiple-part decision.
Groff added “Most school board members want to do what’s best for kids.”
The Canaseraga superintendent said he is concerned that if Canaseraga Central is eventually forced to close because of declining enrollment, “the nuclear option would be tuitioning students to other school districts, where students are farmed out to area schools and all Canaseraga High School teachers would lose their jobs.”