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Sun., Jul. 13
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End of the road

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Sometimes you have to open the can rather than kick it.

But legislators in Albany have perfected the latter, this time to the detriment of local students. Their inaction is weakening an already strained educational system, putting our children’s future at risk.

Officials from Hermon-DeKalb, Heuvelton and Morristown central schools in St. Lawrence County had hoped members of the state Legislature would pass a law this year allowing school districts to create regional high schools. A study funded by the three districts reported that forming a regional high school for students in seventh through 12th grades with its own governing body would collectively save them more than $872,000.

Representatives of the three districts urged legislators to revise laws barring them from enacting such a measure. Not only would the districts save money, true value tax rates would decline for property owners in these areas, according to the study prepared by education consultant Phillip M. Martin.

This is but one sign of the growing concern among educators, parents and community leaders about the state of our public schools. Some teachers in St. Lawrence County, for example, are soliciting input on the idea of forming a public charter school as an alternative to traditional teaching practices.

State Legislature members, however, declined to move forward with a plan to allow the regional high school. District officials must now figure out how to survive financially without gutting essential programs.

Perhaps some legislators were reluctant to open the can because they feared worms would come out.

It’s true that forming an independent high school would have consequences. Mr. Martin’s study found that the combined seventh- through 12th-grade teaching staff of 50.4 would need to be cut to 38.

This recommendation obviously does not sit well with those whose livelihoods would be at risk. No one wants to see teachers lose their jobs, and reducing staff members seems counterintuitive to the goal of enhancing instruction.

But one well-funded school can focus classroom resources better than three poorly financed schools can. The regional high school students would benefit from a centralized curriculum that has more money to educate them. And students in kindergarten through sixth grade at the three districts would be helped because they also would have more money for academic programs.

As is happening in other areas, these three districts have examined different ways to cut costs. One proposal calls for them to merge into one entity.

The idea to form an independent high school, though, seems to be the best option. Many fear the districts will be insolvent within a few years, and this plan — even with its downsides — would put them on a better financial foundation.

However, legislators chose to avoid the backlash of detractors rather than make some hard choices. Effective leadership involves painful decisions, yet this was sorely lacking in the recent session.

Our elected representatives must help fix the financial woes plaguing public schools, and allowing districts to create regional schools would be an excellent start. This road trip of delayed action that legislators are on must end — the time to move on this plan is now.

But if they continue to refuse to do their job on education, we as their constituents must do our job when the next election rolls around. Then when they’re out of work, they can kick all the cans they want because they’re bored as well as lazy.

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