The Horseheads and Elmira Heights school boards will form an advisory panel composed of 32 community members as the next step in a possible merger between the two districts.

Western New York Educational Service Council, a consultant group out of Buffalo, was chosen by the boards to conduct a reorganization feasibility study and draft a report regarding the possible merger. WNYESC held a presentation for a joint school board session Tuesday.

While the two school boards and the consultant agency aren’t wholly backing either option - to merge or not to merge - the state encourages consolidation with extra aid, offering a 14-year, $61 million incentive for a newly merged district. The aid would provide $6.4 million each year for five years, and would decrease by 4 percent annually beginning in the sixth year until the $61 million is gone.

The merger incentive would aid with the budgetary woes each school has faced since the recession began; the districts continue to struggle under the state’s tax cap. How to use the aid would be up to the new school board, according to Tom Coseo, a consultant with WNYESC.

Choosing the community panel - to be called the Community Advisory Committee - for the study is the third step in a process that could lead to a “straw vote,” or a non-binding vote on consolidation in December 2015.

Should voters approve the “straw vote,” a binding vote would be held in January 2016, with a consolidated school district possibly in place by 2016.

The upcoming feasibility study, to be conducted from September 2014 through May 2015, will look at key aspects of each district, including student enrollment projections, facilities condition surveys and the fiscal standing of each district, as well as similiarities and differences between each school’s curriculum and instruction, extracurricular/athletic programs, support services, and personnel.

Those chosen for the Community Advisory Committee - a group of 32 members; 16 from each community - will actively participate in the study process by analyzing information and reports, as well as bringing personal ideas and community perspectives to the discussions, officials say.

Each school board will send out applications to residents in the following weeks.

Of the 16 committee members from each district, the school boards are looking for one student, three parents, two teachers, two administrators, two support staff members, one arts-minded citizen, one citizen involved in community athletics, two business figures, one retiree and one veteran. Ideally, each committee member will be a resident of the district.

Those appointed to the committee must also bring an unbiased, open mind to the table, according to Coseo.

“It’s like selecting a jury,” Coseo said. “You need to choose people who don’t have a bias.”

A subcommittee will bring suggestions for Community Advisory Committee members to the Horseheads and Elmira Heights school boards on Aug. 28, and the boards will pick the committee.