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Last-minute legal maneuver tries to stop school merger

By JOLEEN FERRIS

HERKIMER COUNTY, N.Y. (WKTV) - Nearly two years of study and debate are drawing to a close, and Herkimer County voters are about to go to the polls on an issue that has divided the county like few others.

The Herkimer County School Merger has pitted neighbor against neighbor. Signs for and against the merger can be found on lawns right next door to each other in neighborhoods throughout the county.

Battle-worn Friends of the Three-District Merge member Matt Obreza is ready for decision day; ready for nearly two years of sometimes heated debate and strife to come to and end. Obreza says the three districts still involved in the merger, (Herkimer, Ilion and Mohawk), should take advantage of the $59 million in state aid committed to the project and merge-a move he believes will strengthen the academic, sports and extra-curricular programs for all students.

"Some schools don't have business, they don't have technology, the teacher retires, the program doesn't get replaced. So this is a great opportunity, there's $59 in incentive aid coming to us to do this. We just look at it as we can save generations of kids by moving forward with a yes vote," says Obreza.

Some say that the savings projected by the merger proposal are not guaranteed, and suggest that more responsible budgeting might be the solution.

"I know that they spent, Herkimer & Ilion spent a great deal of money on their playing fields which they won't even be used for games anymore, just practices if the merger goes through. I believe it will cost more in the long run," says Kelli Morton.

With one week to go before the merger vote, legal maneuvering has begun to halt the merger. A representative from all three districts has filed a petition with the state education commissioner to annul last month's straw vote and stop next week's final, binding merger vote, saying that proponents of the merger have violated eduation law in their support of it. The group, "Friends of the Three-District Merger" has responded, calling the move a "frivolous, and desperate last-minute effort to deny a merger that the voters of all three districts have already approved twice in the last year."

Dan Monohan, who filed one of the petitions with the state, says he's been given no indication whether there will be a ruling by Thursday's vote.

One thing both sides agree on is, they will be glad when it's the controversial, emotional vote is over.

"Right now I don't know where my kids are going next year. They don't know where they're going next year, so the anxiety's really built up and I think either way, hopefully the merger doesn't pass but if it does pass, I will be relieved just that I finally know once and for all what's happening," says proponent Tom Seymour.

"I'm exhausted and it's time for it to be over," says Obreza.

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