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Morristown community looks for answers about regional high school

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MORRISTOWN — More questions were asked than answered at Wednesday’s community forum focused on the prospects of a regional high school.

Officiated by employees of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, the forum gave community members a chance to provide input to the school’s Board of Education on their vision for the future of their school.

Roughly 75 community members showed up and offered many questions, including the fiscal impact of a regional high school, how many jobs will be preserved through the measure and the time line that any such plan would take.

David J. Glover, superintendent at Morristown Central School, said “We’re to the point of being insolvent educationally.”

“We’re not offering everything that we think our kids deserve, we’re not offering the programs we want them to have, we’re not putting our best foot forward for our kids so they can have the future that we want them to have,” he said.

Mr. Glover added that “We’re not getting the money we need to do it, we’re being restricted in the ways we can raise taxes for it. We’ve got to find a way where the two are able to meet and this is why these conversations have got to come into play. We’ve got to find a different way to be able to educate the students of Morristown in a manner thatcan meet the mission of the school. We’re running out of options.”

Morristown has roughly $1.7 million in its fund balance but Mr. Glover expects it to be exhausted in the coming year as it is utilized to pay for everyday operational expenses.

Thomas R. Burns, district superintendent at St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, said the administrations and superintendents of Morristown, Heuvelton and Hermon-DeKalb Central Schools, in association with BOCES, have hired consultant Philip M. Martin, Syracuse, to conduct a study on the costs and benefits of a regional high school.

Mr. Martin retired as district superintendent from Fayetteville-Manlius Central School in 2005.

“He has a ton of experience doing this kind of work,” said Mr. Burns. Mr. Martin did a similar study in Wayne County and a schools consolidation study for Thousand Islands Central School in Clayton.

Mr. Martin will be meeting with the superintendents next week to lay out the study which is expected to be completed by June 30.

While regional high schools are currently not provided for in state law, Mr. Burns is confident legislation will be passed in the spring to enable school districts to form the unions.

But Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she isn’t confident this is the best way for schools to solve their very real, and very pressing, budget problems. Regional high schools are a long-term issue but budgets are being pinched in the short term.

Mrs. Russell said that although there were two bills in the Senate last year that would have allowed schools to form regional high schools, there was no real push for them to pass.

Mrs. Russell said they amounted to “posturing” and were never shopped around to the Assembly to be introduced there.

Instead of waiting for action from the state government, Ms. Russell said there are ways for local school districts to take matters into their own hands.

“I think you could figure it all out contractually without having to go through the state,” she said.

Mrs. Russell said school districts are already able to send high school students to another district and pay tuition and could even work out contract agreements with teachers to preserve jobs.

“My goal is not for you all to wait for Albany to make a decision about your future,” Mrs. Russell said. “I would like for you all to make a decision about your future, and then we will go and make sure that Albany does whatever it can to get out of your way.”

Mr. Burns agreed that regional high schools are a long-term issue.

It would take “18 months to two years for full implementation,” he said.

Mr. Burns said, in the short term, “We already have a distance-learning network that’s pretty enhanced. … You’re probably going to see more sharing arraignments between districts. … We have several articulation agreements between colleges — SUNY Canton, Paul Smiths — trying to get kids some early college credits. People are going to be creative.”

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