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Board ponders next step on Lyndonville merger issue

The Barker Board of Education is scheduled to decide tonight to either table the idea of a merger with the adjacent Lyndonville School District or allow district residents to vote on whether the merger option should be studied further.

A committee of residents of both districts has spent the last six months reviewing comparison data on finance, transportation, programming and staffing to create a picture of how a merged district would function.

The board in Lyndonville is ready to take the next step and determine the community's desire to move forward, but Barker Superintendent Roger J. Klatt said his district has shown a bit more hesitation.

"It's quite apparent that there were too many unanswered questions -- the kind of details that parents need to know," he said regarding reports from the committee. "The sentiments were less supportive of a wholesale merger."

If the board votes in favor of a nonbinding referendum to gauge public sentiment, both districts will set a polling date sometime in February. Otherwise, the merger process stops.

Both boards heard committee members express a lack of confidence that the state would follow through on paying the incentive aid that it promises to districts that merge. For Barker and Lyndonville, it would amount to $20 million over the next 14 years for the merged district.

The committee also expressed concerns over transportation across a merged district, especially when it comes to after-school programming. The study showed that some bus routes in a merged district may take as long as an hour to complete, about five to 10 minutes longer than either district's current longest bus ride.

Many such specific concerns will not be addressed until the districts vote yes on a merger and make it to the point that they have elected a new Board of Education for the merged district, Klatt said.

Lyndonville Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams said she is confident that elected officials from both districts would be more than qualified to address those concerns at the right time.

"You have to take each step along the way," she said. "These processes are fairly well-developed, and you do the work associated with the merger at the time it needs to be done."

Should the districts eventually decide to merge, the new district would be in place by July 1. That includes a new superintendent, Board of Education and budget.

Talks of collaboration between the districts began more than a year ago, Deane-Williams said, and the districts will find ways to help each other save money even if a full merger doesn't happen now.

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