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Schools look beyond regional high school for savings

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Struggling school districts may not be able to rely on forming a regional high school after legislation allowing such an arrangement failed to pass in Albany this past session.

Administrators and board members from Hermon-DeKalb, Heuvelton and Morristown central schools are now taking the summer to mull their options following the release in June of a regional high school study paid for by the three districts.

“When we get back together in September, hopefully we’ll know what each board wants,” Heuvelton Superintendent Susan E. Todd said. “Then we’ll know what the next step is.”

The $30,000 study, conducted by education consultant Phillip M. Martin, offered six options for the three districts to consider, each focused on ways they could save money and offer a better education.

The study found two “viable regional high school” models that would work. The first would involve creating a new school district to supervise the regional high school, while the second would see the regional high school operated by the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

But because no state laws exist governing the creation of a regional high school — meaning new legislation would have to be passed — the schools see the formation of a regional high school as a long-term solution, Hermon-DeKalb Superintendent Ann M. Adams said. But right now they need to focus on short-term solutions, she said.

“The lack of legislative action is disappointing and frustrating, to be sure,” BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns said. “But we have to start somewhere, and I do believe that the study provides some viable, working models that would both show financial savings, and more importantly create significant enhancement to academic programs for kids.”

Mr. Martin also looked at several other options, including having Morristown and Hermon-DeKalb pay tuition to send their high school students to Heuvelton; merging the three schools outright; or having Hermon-DeKalb and Heuvelton merge, with Morristown paying tuition for students to attend school in the merged district.

Morristown Superintendent David J. Glover said any of the options in the study would take two to three years to materialize — longer if the state doesn’t pass legislation in the next year.

“Tuitioning is the most immediate solution,” Mrs. Todd said.

All three districts have projected that unless the state aid formula changes, they will be able to maintain fiscal solvency onl until the 2016-17 school year. But Mr. Glover said educational insolvency may be approaching sooner, taking hold by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

The three districts plan a representatives’ meeting in September to discuss the regional high school report and the next steps.

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