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Referendum vote for Ilion-Mohawk school merger likely next month

By NICOLE PITT

ILION and MOHAWK, N.Y. (WKTV) - A referendum vote on merging the Ilion and Mohawk School Districts will likely take place by mid-February, according to education officials.

The school districts were originally scheduled to travel to Albany on Tuesday to ask the State Department of Education to move the merger process along, granting any waivers needed to schedule a vote in the coming months to merge the two districts.

In October, a referendum vote to merge Ilion, Mohawk, and Herkimer School Districts was voted down by a margin of less than 200 voters in Herkimer. A year prior, a proposed four-school merger involving Ilion, Mohawk, Herkimer and Frankfort schools was voted down during the "straw vote" stage and never made it to a referendum vote.

Under normal circumstances, the school districts would have to wait a year and one day from the defeat of the three-school referendum vote in October before they could move forward with a proposed two-school merger vote.

However, Herkimer County BOCES Superintendent Mark Vivacqua said that on Monday the State Department of Education approved the request for the two-school proposal to move forward, although several things have to happen first.

According to Vivacqua, the two school districts have to gather a petition with at least 100 signatures between them, asking for a referendum vote. Normal protocol means only one polling location, which would be Ilion due to it being the larger of the two districts. However, a special petition will be needed to add a polling location in Mohawk as well. This requires ten percent of the school district's population (i.e. ten percent of the number of students enrolled in the district).

School officials want those petitions to be in the hands of the state within a week. The state then has to scheduled a referendum vote within 30 days of receipt of those petitions, which leads Vivacqua to estimate a referendum vote for the two districts in mid-February.

The ballot itself will contain three portions - a 'yes' or 'no' selection on whether the two district should merge, how many school board members should serve (5, 7, or 9) and how long those terms for school board members should be.

All arrangements have to be in place by July 1 for the school districts to merge for the Fall school year. If not, they would have to wait until the following year.

"The way this is scheduled and the sense of urgency to get this done a central school district can only reform on July 1st," said Mark Vivacqua, BOCES District Superintendent and also a representative of the state in this merger process. "This new district will begin operating on July 1st so the board will be in place all of that has to happen before July 1st."

As the process moves forward, the New York State Department of Education says the school district would be known as the Ilion-Mohawk Central School District until further notices. State law dictates that the merged names go in alphabetical order.

Who will serve as the superintendent of a merged district if the vote passes has not yet been determined. That is a decision that would be decided by the new Board of Education once the new board is in place.

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