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Thousands head to polls to determine future of three Herkimer County schools

By HILARY LANE and LEXIE O'CONNOR

HERKIMER COUNTY, N.Y. (WKTV) - Thousands of people turned out to vote on Wednesday to determine if there is enough interest in a three-school merger between Herkimer, Ilion, and Mohawk Schools to warrant a binding referendum to do so in October.

The proposal must pass the straw vote in all three districts in order to move forward to the final binding vote.

Whether they were voting for or against the merger, one thing was for sure, voters are passionate when it comes to the future of their school districts. The Business Manager at Ilion Central School said he expects the evening hours to be very busy as people stop in and vote on their way home from work.

If the three school districts choose to merge, they will receive an additional $59 million incentive aid for the combined school district, which would result in more classes and more opportunities for the students. However, some residents say they are voting against the merger because they say each of the three schools will lose their identity.

School officials say that not merging will result in multiple cuts to staff, programs, athletics and classes at all three schools, as the funding is no longer there to sustain them.

"My kids went to school here, they got an education, they are both out of college now," said Tom Ziemann, who voted 'yes.' "It was a good experience, but times change and we need to change with the times."

"Our kids will have to travel two times before 9th grade to attend schools that aren't superior to the ones they already attend," said Grace Osborne, who voted 'no.' "I am against it and I was a school administrator here for more than 30 years."

The business manager at Ilion says the turnout on Wednesday was even larger than he had expected. He believes the nice weather was a contributing factor to the large voter turnout.

It was a similar story in Mohawk on Wednesday where a steady stream of voters poured in throughout the day. Before the polls even opened Wednesday morning, there was a line of voters waiting outside the door, all ready to cast their ballots and have their voices heard.

"I think it's a great opportunity," said Dave Bliss, who voted 'yes.' "It will give the kids from all the districts more opportunities. It's a great thing."

"My kids are in Mohawk, they love being in Mohawk," said Rosevald Valdivia, who voted 'no.' "If they wanted to be in Ilion, or Herkimer, I most likely would have purchased a house there."

Mohawk School officials say they are expecting hundreds of more people to cast their ballot before the polls close.

There was a steady flow of voters at Herkimer as well, the district that had the closest margin of yes and no votes previously. When the merger was previously voted on with four schools in the mix, Herkimer had 1,020 people vote yes and 896 vote no.

"I've been a Herkimer person all my life and I kind of, I guess, just hate to give up our school when I've gone through here, my children have gone through here," said Liz Spellman, who was voting unsure.

"I can understand the emotions, but emotions aren't the best way to govern," said Dale Miller, who voted 'yes.' "Don't get me wrong. They have a role. I understand how people feel, but when it comes down to it, if they don't have a football program, if they don't have a JV program or a modified program to feed into those, what's the value there as far as that sport activities go."

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