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Sparks fly at Hermon-Dekalb regional high school public forum

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DEKALB JUNCTION – A lively public forum at Hermon-Dekalb Central School Wednesday night saw members of the community venting their frustration at a feasibility study that’s costing the district $10,000.

“The purpose of this study is to gather information and data,” Superintendent Ann M. Adams said. “No decisions have been made.”

But Ms. Adams was not able to calm the crowd of roughly 60 people.

“We’re bailing Heuvelton out,” said one woman, upset that Hermon-Dekalb is considering sending its seventh through 12th graders to Heuvelton Central School and paying tuition.

Most people were upset by the study’s lack of clarity.

The study being conducted by education consultant Phillip M. Martin on behalf of Morristown, Heuvelton and Hermon-DeKalb Central Schools, each of which is paying Mr. Martin $10,000, is looking at ways to consolidate services at the three schools while retaining their individuality.

“The point is to preserve the Hermon-DeKalb identity,” Mr. Martin said of study.

To that end Mr. Martin is studying the possibility of setting up a regional high school at Heuvelton, where seventh-through-12th graders would attend from Morristown and Hermon-DeKalb.

However, because there is no legal pathway for districts to set up regional high schools in New York state – as Mr. Martin says, there is only “potential legislation” – the study is also looking at tuitioning and full mergers.

“We could merge with Canton or Gouverneur,” Ms. Adams said, noting that either of those schools would have to agree to the merger also.

But Ms. Adams said the goal, for now, is to consider the possibility of joining together with other, smaller districts.

“That does not preclude us from looking at other districts, but you have to start somewhere,” she said.

For regional high schools, because no legal pathway exists, the variables are many.

It’s still being determined how teachers would be employed, whether by their home district, by BOCES, or through the regional high school, Mr. Martin said.

Sports teams could also remain divided by home district or be clustered at the new entity and diplomas could be given out by either the home district, BOCES, or the regional high school.

Tuitioning is more straight forward. Mr. Martin said students who end up being tuitioned to another school would play sports on the host school’s teams and receive a diploma from them.

In the case of a merger the new district would have a new name, a new board of education, a new administration, a new sports program and a new academic structure.

“There would be one new identity,” Mr. Phillips said.

Mr. Martin’s study is slated to be done by June 30.

But budget realities have made finding some way to make education more cost effected a necessity.

Janet Boyd, business manager at Hermon-DeKalb, said the district is projecting a $66,972 shortfall in 2015-2016 and a $166,471 shortfall in 2016-2017.

Ms. Boyd said the school is receiving less state aid now than in 2008-2009.

“We’re receiving less aid now than we were back then and during that time costs have gone up,” Ms. Boyd said.

Ms. Boyd said the district is expecting to receive roughly $5.9 million in state aid next year.

“We have about 300,000 in budget cuts we are considering to balance the budget,” Ms. Boyd added.

Ms. Adams noted the district is cutting two full-time teaching positions by attrition in this year alone.

Unless the state begins kicking more money towards education, however, the district may be forced to take action.

No one, including the state legislators, has a plan for what happens if a school district goes bankrupt before a merger takes place, Ms. Adams said.

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