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Ogdensburg city schools ask state for law allowing status change

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OGDENSBURG — In an attempt to begin a more serious dialogue about possible mergers, the Ogdensburg City School District has requested legislation in Albany to enable it to become a central school district.

Under current regulations, city school districts are unable to merge with neighboring districts to form a new, united entity. Instead, city schools must annex other districts.

“The other school district pretty much loses their identity. We don’t think that’s right,” said Ogdensburg Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey. “We think we should be allowed, if we have a partner next door that would like to look into possibly merging the district, to at least have that opportunity.”

To that end, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, has introduced legislation on behalf of the Ogdensburg city schools that would enable the district to become a central school.

“This is just an option,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “This is not an absolute. Nothing will go forward until there are agreements at the table and there is community support.”

Mrs. Ritchie said the goal is to make Ogdensburg an equal partner in discussions about school mergers and further consolidations of services.

Because Ogdensburg would be required to annex neighboring districts that wanted to consolidate, “that kind of stopped the conversation in its place,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

“This is a way for Ogdensburg to be part of the discussions that are going on,” she said.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she finds the legislation “interesting.”

“I wouldn’t want it to have the unintended consequence of hurting their school funding,” she said.

Mrs. Russell said she plans to devote more time to the legislation next week once state budget deliberations are complete.

Mrs. Ritchie said she doesn’t know how Ogdensburg becoming a central school would impact funding but would look into it.

“We’re just trying to start the conversation,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

But Mr. Vernsey said Ogdensburg becoming a central school district wouldn’t affect its funding.

“It used to be that small city (school districts) got small city aid. But that was taken away quite a few years ago,” Mr. Vernsey said.

However, Mr. Vernsey said there is “significant state aid” if two central school districts merge.

If Ogdensburg were to merge it could only do so with adjacent districts.

Morristown, Heuvelton and Lisbon central schools are the only districts that could merge with Ogdensburg if it became a central school.

“We’ll have to find a partner who’s willing to merge,” Mr. Vernsey said of the idea.

Mrs. Ritchie said, “I will not be moving the bill until there has been discussions with Ogdensburg and those they are partnering with. I will be waiting for feedback from the community.”

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