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Morristown looks for other ways to save school

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MORRISTOWN – Even as Morristown Central School has shelled out $10,000 to research the potential benefits of a regional high school, the school’s Board of Education discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, investigating other avenues through which to provide the community’s children with an education.

As part of a $30,000 study being conducted by Heuvelton, Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown Central Schools, Philip M. Martin, a former superintendent at Fayetteville-Manlius Central School, was hired to determine the economic viability of a plan to create a regional high school serving the three districts.

Currently Mr. Martin is gathering information about each of the school districts. His report is due June 30.

State legislators representing the region have not been supportive of regional high schools, which would require the state pass legislation legalizing the move, and Morristown board members say they don’t want to get stuck pursuing something that is impossible.

“It sounds like Albany is not in favor of a regional high school exemption,” James Michaels, board member, said. “If we get to the end of that [study] and the Legislature says, ‘nope, we’re not going to do that,’ we’re dead in the water?”

Superintendent David J. Glover said he has also heard negative feedback from legislators.

“It’s my experience that legislators are looking for us to take the lead,” he said. “The intent of the study is twofold: to make sure it makes sense for us to do something along these lines; and to help our legislators, providing them with information.”

The regional high school study’s due date, June 30, is ten days after the scheduled end of the 2013 legislative session.

Citing public comments by Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, Mr. Glover admitted that he isn’t sure “we have a bastion of support at the Assembly level.”

Mrs. Russell, who has suggested schools look at other, legal ways of providing students a quality education, is joined by Senator Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, in her view that legislation is unnecessary.

Senators Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblyman Kenneth J. Blankenbush, R-Black River, have said they are willing to look at regional high schools, though they have not proposed legislation to that effect.

The pushback is not going unnoticed.

“Should we be looking at other things too? At least we would have some alternatives when the state says, ‘we’re not funding a regional set up,’” Darrell Merkel, vice president of the Board of Education, said.

Mr. Michaels suggested the board begin considering tuitioning high school students out to other districts, a move that would be in line with the board’s goals outlined in 2012.

In particular, Mr. Michaels mentioned the Ogdensburg City School district as a possible destination school. Ogdensburg City School Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey and Ogdensburg Board of Education President Frederic P. Bean have publicly stated their willingness to consider accepting tuition students in the past.

Mr. Glover said any such plan would require the approval of Morristown’s Board of Education in addition to that of whatever school district is picked as a destination.

At this time, Morristown Central School has a fund balance of $3.25 million in both unappropriated and appropriated accounts.

Mr. Glover said at December’s board meeting that he will not recommend the board make any further cuts to the school’s services and instead rely entirely on the fund balance.

Mr. Glover predicted the school will be left with a fund balance of $114,159 by the end of the 2015-2016 school year.

Board Member Jane Kring asked Mr. Glover if the school could, in the worst case scenario, choose to simply dissolve.

“School districts can choose to dissolve with voter approval,” Mr. Glover said, adding that the school district would be divvied up with help from the state government.

Mr. Merkel said, “Something has to be done. We have to go in a different direction. We don’t know if it’s going to be regional. We don’t know if it’s going to be mergers. But with the budget situation ... it’s not going to get a lot better.”

Mr. Glover said the school will begin investigating other ways to provide a quality education to Morristown youth in the event the state does not pass regional high school legislation.

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