State Officials Continue Push For Regional Schools

Members of the New York State Senate and Assembly are hoping to reverse the trend that has seen a bill for regional schools blocked from vote over the past two years.

Despite the inclusion of a regional schools bill within budget proposals from both the Senate and Assembly, the bill was blocked from vote both times by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, according to state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-C-I-Chautauqua County.

“It’s just frustrating when the Senate has approved it for the past two years, the Assembly’s Education Committee has unanimously approved it, and it is blocked from vote for, essentially, political reasons,” said Goodell.

Goodell said one of the primary reasons for the blockage of the bill is that it doesn’t have the support of New York State United Teachers.

“There were concerns raised by NYSUT, and there were issues over the amount of funding that would be attached to a regional high school. The teachers’ union is concerned because, even though (regional schools) significantly expand course opportunities for students, (they) have consolidated on some staffing levels; and that’s part of where the savings come from,” he said.

According to state Sen. Cathy Young, R-C-I-Olean, the benefits of regional schools are manifold, and the bill has received approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission, and the state Education Department Board of Regents.

“Regional high schools would allow students in rural areas to gain enhanced academic, sports and enrichment opportunities that they don’t have now, including advanced placement courses and extracurricular clubs and activities,” Young said. “The Senate and I will continue to work with the governor’s office and the assembly to get a positive result before the end of the session.”

To illustrate the benefits of regional schools, Goodell pointed to the recent tuition agreement between Ripley Central School and Chautauqua Lake Central School; in which 131 Ripley students in grades seven through 12 will be attending Chautauqua Lake for the 2013-14 academic year. He said the agreement will make for an empty Ripley High School building and the loss of several teaching positions, and could have been structured differently in a regional high school.

“If you don’t allow for regional schools, then what happens is you run into the same situation as Ripley, where they just don’t have enough students,” he said. “You can’t provide opportunities for electives unless everyone wants to take the same class at the same time, and all the Ripley teachers got laid off. If you had a regional high school, you would negotiate over how you’d structure it.”

He added: “Cathy Young really led the fight (for regional schools), and we were disappointed that it wasn’t included in the budget. It’s a win-win for both students and taxpayers, and Young has provided strong, effective leadership in trying to push this forward.”