Potential Panama-Clymer School Merger Stalls At The Polls

The results of the advisory referendum to gauge community support for a potential merger between the Panama and Clymer school districts revealed a narrow victory and overwhelming defeat, respectively. Pictured in front of the stage, from left, are: Donald Butler, Panama school board president; Mike Schenck, Clymer school board president; and Bert Lictus, superintendent of Panama and Clymer schools. P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti

PANAMA — The subject of a potential merger between two Chautauqua County school districts remains a divisive one.

On Monday, an advisory referendum — also known as a straw vote — undertaken by the Panama and Clymer districts as to the feasibility of consolidating the districts had Panama passing the referendum by a slim margin of 192 to 168 and Clymer overwhelming voting it down by a margin of 186 to 654.

The polls were open in both districts from noon-8 p.m. Monday, and the results were read aloud in the Panama school auditorium shortly after they closed. Given a split vote such as this, the current merger study now ceases.

Bert Lictus, superintendent of both the Panama and Clymer districts, noted that there would still be much work and discussion ahead regardless of the outcome from Monday’s referendum, but said there were several positives that resulted from the stalemate.

“I think this shows that, although their views go in differing directions, people in both school districts are very supportive of their (respective) schools,” Lictus said. “I’m thankful to the community members for being engaged in this discussion about education in our region and for coming out to vote. That support is a positive in itself, and now both of the school boards will have to sit down and figure out where we need to go from here.”

“We learned a lot about our districts by doing these (feasibility) studies with regard to classes, management and finances,” he added. “We learned what we needed to learn, and now we need to take action and do the best we can for the kids.”

The two school districts had been involved in a feasibility study over the last couple months. Learning Design Associates, a feasibility agency, conducted the study over the summer and gave the two communities their final report that recommended how the two communities should go about consolidating. One such recommendation was a merged district.

Both districts held individual public meetings to gauge their respective community’s openness to such a course of action. In both instances, a number of questions, fears, opinions and concerns were voiced.

The results of Monday’s advisory referendum indicate that those concerns prevailed at the polls.