Three school districts. One high school.
That’s how the future could look for some smaller districts across the state if legislation passes creating regional secondary schools.
“What this bill will do is give smaller districts the ability to pool resources on the secondary level and save taxpayers money without having to consolidate districts completely into larger school districts,” said Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica.
Several bills involving regional secondary schools have been proposed, but the most recent is sponsored in the Senate and Assembly, and in the spring was referred to the bodies’ Education Committees.
The bill would allow up to three districts to combine grades six through 12 in one school in a new building or converting a current building. The districts would create a governing board or go through the local BOCES.
All decisions would have to be approved by the individual districts and the voters.
The topic is expected to be discussed in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.
“We’re looking at the challenges that face education,” said state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome. “You can’t say no to anything anymore.”
The idea differs from district mergers in that it keeps a school’s identity through middle school, keeps younger students from having to ride farther distances if they had to go to a different school, and focuses on providing the more expensive resources for high school students.
Rural school districts would benefit from regional schools, Brindisi said. They would be able to offer more advanced placement and elective courses.
“They could provide these resources that students need to compete in a global economy,” he said.
One district that could benefit is the Owen D. Young Central in Van Hornesville, which has 200 students, 115 in nine through 12th grade, and an about $5.5 million budget for the 2013-14 school year.
The district has had to make cuts over the years, including cutting French and not being able to offer advanced placement courses.
“I think regional high schools are a positive direction in that I think a lot of students in our region would benefit from one,” said Superintendent James Picolla.
Mark Vivacqua, Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES superintendent, agreed that all options need to be explored but issued a caution.
“Frankly, I doubt that there would be an awful lot of interest,” he said. “The proposals haven’t been very different than a full merger.”
Another issue is the possibility of losing a school’s identity — an issue that has prevented many past mergers.
“I see the dilemma of trying to maintain your local identity and local school, but have less access to local opportunities … or have the access to all of this and bring your identity into the bigger school,” said Marina Marcou-O’Mally, policy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group.
Page 2 of 2 - The New York State School Boards Association supports the concept as long as the districts have an option, said Barbara Bradley, association deputy director of communications and research.
“If they want this, we think it’s great,” Bradley said.
If the legislation passes, the decision ultimately would be up to the district voters. “We have to look at the logistics, travel distances, class size … all these factors have to be weighed when making a decision,” Griffo said. “At this point in time, all of us have to be willing to weigh those ideas, consider those ideas and determine what’s best for that area.”