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No regional high school until 2015 at the earliest

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HEUVELTON — At a community forum held Thursday evening by Heuvelton Central School, education consultant Phillip M. Martin updated residents on his study of regional high schools.

Mr. Martin said any plan to consolidate Heuvelton, Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown Central Schools wouldn’t be implemented until 2015 at the earliest.

“This is an extremely challenging time in education. …. Heuvelton has been fortunate in that we’ve been able to scale back through retirements instead of actually having to lay people off. But it’s a matter of time,” Heuvelton Superintendent Susan E. Todd said.

“Clearly it’s not going to happen this year,” Mr. Martin said. “None of these (plans) would go forward without approval from the community.”

But the presentation to about 40 people, coming after roughly four months of background research, highlighted the pros and cons of different types of consolidations.

Any consolidation will boost the quality of education, Mr. Martin said, but a merger, where the three school districts are combined and given a new name, administration and board of education, comes with a hefty state aid package.

Over a 15-year period, the new district would receive an estimated $22.4 million over and above what the districts would expect currently, Mr. Martin said.

But the three school districts that hired Mr. Martin, each paying $10,000, are afraid merging outright would erase each community’s local identity.

That’s why Mr. Martin is focusing on a regional high school, even though there is no mechanism at the state level to authorize such a consolidation. Mr. Martin said he believes there is more support this year for regional high schools in the state Legislature than there has been in the past.

A district merger would not require authorization from the state Legislature.

The proposal Mr. Martin is focusing on is to create a seventh-through-12th-grade regional high school at Heuvelton Central School.

“It could be accomplished using six more classrooms than are currently being used,” Mr. Martin said.

In order to make room for the new students, special education programs would be shifted to one of the other schools.

Declining enrollment at Heuvelton, Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown has increased interest in the regional high school plan. In 1982, there were 1,927 students enrolled among the three districts. By 2007, that number had dropped to 1,300.

While Mr. Martin outlined three slightly different regional high school configurations, all three would see significant reductions in staffing.

If a regional high school were established at Heuvelton Central School, Mr. Martin estimated 37.7 teachers would be required.

“There could be a reduction in staff by 12.9 should any one of these options be enacted,” Mr. Martin said.

Furthermore, regardless of the route the schools take, an elementary school would still be left in each community along with a principal-superintendent.

Mr. Martin is also looking at the possibility of Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown central Schools paying tuition for their high school students to attend Heuvelton. That would allow some consolidation and would not require the state to pass additional legislation.

Mr. Martin’s study is due by June 30.

No decisions regarding consolidations have been made, Mrs. Todd reminded the public. “All the possibilities presented today would need local voter approval.”

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