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Prior study found some savings for regional high schools

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A $30,000 study into the feasibility of a regional high school at Heuvelton Central School serving Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown Central Schools is branching out to study other possible cost-saving measures.

Philip M. Martin, former superintendent at Fayetteville-Manlius Central School, was hired last year to conduct the study and is currently gathering data from each of the three school districts involved. His final report is due June 30.

St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Thomas R. Burns, who is helping Heuvelton, Hermon-DeKalb and Morristown conduct the study, said Mr. Martin will be looking at more than just regional high schools in light of a lack of enthusiasm at the state level for new legislation authorizing such schools. The state currently has no legal framework to create regional high schools.

Mr. Martin has been also asked by participating superintendents to look at mergers and tuitioning, or a district paying tuition for students to attend another.

“Some of that data will be captured,” Mr. Burns said.

“There has not been any indication from [the superintendents] that they have any one direction to go in,” Mr. Martin said Friday.

Mr. Martin added that tuitioning is a particularly compelling candidate for consideration at this point because it is a relatively short-term solution.

“Clearly that is a definite interest on their part,” he said. “They are considering it conceptually.”

This isn’t Mr. Martin’s first time studying regional high schools.

In 2010 Mr. Martin conducted a feasibility study on behalf of 11 school districts in Wayne County. That project, unlike the current endeavor, was state funded.

“Although the districts were interested in looking at examining the regional high school, they really were interested in learning how they could share services further,” Mr. Martin said.

The 2010 “Regional High School Feasibility Study,” contracted through the Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, determined that some savings could be achieved if a regional approach was taken.

“It was determined that the operating budget savings in creating four regional high schools when compared with the 11 existing high schools could save approximately three percent of the costs,” the report states. “The regional high school concept would retain all 11 school districts, all 11 boards of education, all 11 superintendents, and would maintain all existing elementary schools and all existing middle schools in their current locations. At the same time, the existing 11 high schools would be combined into larger high school units, thereby increasing the curricular opportunities for students.”

Two and a half years after the Wayne County study was finished, there are still no regional high schools.

“Even though these 11 districts signed onto do the regional high school study, their focus shifted from regional high schools to sharing services,” he said.

State lawmakers have not been eager to introduce new legislation allowing districts to form regional high schools.

The 2010 study noted that many questions surrounding the regional high school concept need to be answered by state officials, such as the structure of an oversight board, funding, credit for students and from which entity diplomas would be awarded.

Mr. Martin’s 2010 study also recognized the need for “financial incentives” from the state to make regional high schools cost effective.

So far for the three St. Lawrence County districts, Mr. Martin said it’s too early to say which avenue is most feasible.

He said he hopes to have more concrete information by mid-March.

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