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COLONIE: Voters support merger study

With their 2007-08 budgets passed, North Colonie and Maplewood-Common School districts will continue meeting on a proposed merger of the two.

For more than a year, boards, committees and officials at both school districts have been meeting to finalize an annexation plan to take to voters for the Tuesday, May 15, elections. Both districts showed strong support among their residents for continuing work on the merger, and passing the recommendation on to the state Department of Education for approval.

The state, if it agrees with the districts' findings, will likely set the date next fall for a final vote to make the Maplewood kindergarten through eight grade school North Colonie's seventh elementary school.

It was quite the showing last night, said Jerry Steele, Maplewood principal, superintendent and business manager, the day after the school elections.

His school saw at least six times the typical voter turnout for budget votes in the past. Maplewood residents voted 190-to-27 in favor of moving on the annexation.

"I think that speaks volumes of the people of Maplewood in terms of looking down the road. Are there questions that need to be answered? Certainly. But the first hurdle has been cleared," he said.

Maplewood has been inching closer over the years to either closing its doors or merging with a neighboring district. Double-digit tax increases have taken their toll on businesses and residents. Last year, Steele and school staff agreed it was time to come to the table with North Colonie to look at ways to save the school. The talks were sweetened a bit when North Colonie assured the district that the school would stay open at least another seven to 10 years after a merger went through.

North Colonie residents also came out strongly in favor of the annexation after school officials made public $30 million in state aid if the proposal goes through. To be paid over the course of 14 years, the annexation incentive aid found its way off the state budget's chopping block this year. The money could be used to fund a long list of projects throughout the district, including renovating athletic fields, building a new maintenance facility and improving schools, including Maplewood.

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