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No regional high school until 2015 at the earliest


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

Roughly 40 people were in attendance.

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

Heuvelton Superintendent Susan E. Todd said, “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.”

“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, 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 they 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 for which no legislation exists 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 twelfth grade regional high school at Heuvelton Central School.

“It could be accomplished [at Heuvelton] using six more classrooms than are currently being used [for seventh through twelfth grade],” Mr. Martin said. In order to make room for the new students, special education programs would be shuttled to one of the other schools.

Declining enrollment at Heuvelton, Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown has helped make the regional high school plan feasible. In 1982 there were 1,927 students enrolled between the three districts. In 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 seventh-through-twelfth grade 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 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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