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Sun., Oct. 4
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Ogdensburg and Morristown school officials differ on path to fiscal stability


MORRISTOWN – An Ogdensburg City School district Board of Education member says a merger between Ogdensburg Free Academy and Morristown Central School is the best solution for both districts’ financial problems.

But David J. Glover, superintendent at Morristown Central School, is holding out hope for a regional high school with Heuvelton and Hermon-DeKalb central schools.

“We are knee-deep in conversations regarding regional high schools,” Mr. Glover said Monday.

Mr. Glover said regional high schools are incredibly attractive to small school districts because they enable the community to preserve some sense of identity.

“In the regional high school approach you still have your elementary school,” said Mr. Glover.

Mr. Glover also said there are potential savings to be had by instituting a regional high school. Cutting out administrative and teaching staff redundancies are primary examples.

There is a hurdle in the way of establishing a regional high school: currently there is no legal way for schools to set them up.

Betty J. Mallott, a member of the Ogdensburg Board of Education, thinks she has a solution.

“We have the regional high school sitting right here,” she said of Ogdensburg Free Academy.

The state does permit school districts to merge, and Mrs. Mallott said this is an ideal solution to both districts’ financial problems.

At November’s Board of Education meeting, Ogdensburg City School District Business Manager Jeffrey R. Swanson said the school district will have exhausted its $1.9 million fund balance by June 2014.

In Morristown the school has roughly $1.7 million in its fund balance.

Mr. Glover said he expects that figure to be significantly reduced in next year’s budget.

Mr. Glover said Morristown has already cut as much as it can without sacrificing a basic education.

“We’re trying to maintain the core of our academic program,” he said. “We’re to the point where the next cut will impact something we can’t tolerate anymore.”

Mrs. Mallott, noting that OFA has space to accommodate extra students because of its own declining enrollment, said she would like to see area high schools send their students to Ogdensburg.

Currently Ogdensburg has 1,800 students, down from 2,400 several years ago.

OFA has “all kinds of facilities that aren’t being used,” said Mrs. Mallott.

Mrs. Mallott believes struggling high schools, like Morristown, would be ideal to merge with OFA.

“Just bring the high school. Leave the school intact for the elementary,” she said.

She said doing so would maintain the community’s sense of school identity.

Mr. Glover said Morristown, Heuvelton, Hermon-DeKalb and the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services are currently studying how much money could be saved with a regional high school.

The study’s results are expected next summer.

But it won’t matter if the state Legislature doesn’t pass legislation enabling schools to set them up.

“On the fast track you’re talking two to three years,” said Mr. Glover, adding that it’s more likely to take up to five years for a regional high school to materialize even if the state passes new laws in 2013.

At the same time, Mr. Glover said Morristown is four to five years away from bankruptcy.

Mrs. Mallott said she sees a merger between Ogdensburg and Morristown, and other schools who want to join in, as the best and fastest way forward.

Morristown students, she notes, “drive right by our high school to go to BOCES. Their kids play with our kids for Kiwanis and Lions Club sports.”

“We have already a regional high school,” she said. “We just don’t have the kids.”

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