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Schools look beyond regional high school for savings

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Schools may not be able to rely on forming a regional high school after Albany failed to pass legislation in the 2013 session allowing such a school to be set up.

Administrators and board of education members from Hermon-DeKalb, Heuvelton and Morristown central schools are taking the summer to mull over 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 up six options for the three districts to consider, each focused on ways the districts could save money while offering a better education to its students.

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

But since no state laws exist governing the creation of a regional high school, meaning new legislation would have to be passed in Albany before anything could progress, the schools are viewing the formation of a regional high school as a long term solution, Hermon-DeKalb Superintendent Ann M. Adams said.

“But right now we need to focus on [short term solutions],” Mrs. Adams 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 the districts could pursue, including having Morristown and Hermon-DeKalb send their high school students to Heuvelton and pay tuition, merging the three schools outright or having Hermon-DeKalb and Heuvelton merge, with Morristown paying tuition for students to attend the merged district.

“What our districts need to do at this point is discuss [the options] as a full board and engage our community and see what direction we need to go,” Mrs. Todd said.

Morristown Superintendent David J. Glover said any of the options laid out in the study would take two to three years to materialize — longer if the state doesn’t push regional high school legislation through within the next year.

“Tuitioning is the most immediate solution,” Mrs. Todd said, noting that a merger would require another feasibility study before anything could be done.

In a tuitioning arraignment, one district contracts with another and sends its students there. The students would get a diploma from the district they physically attend.

The communities will also have to be involved in any decisions and approve any consolidations in a referendum, Mrs. Todd said.

Mrs. Adams said her district is considering other options beyond the scope of the study as well, including sharing services with Edwards-Knox and Gouverneur central schools. “There are a lot of things in the mix right now,” she said. “This study was just the beginning. It gives us ideas of some options that we could look at.”

All three districts have projected that unless the state aid formula changes, they will only be able to maintain fiscal solvency until the 2016-2017 school year.

Mr. Glover said educational insolvency, however, may be approaching sooner. He predicted that Morristown would be educationally insolvent by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

“When all your revenue is restricted but your expenses are not,” Mr. Glover said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The three districts are planning to send representatives to meet with each other in September to discuss the regional high school report and the next steps.

“There needs to be a short-term solution,” Mrs. Adams said. “For each district that’s different.”

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