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SED commissioner hopeful regional high school concept moves forward

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BRASHER FALLS - As the state tries to deal with its fiscal problems, an issue that impacts schools trying to build their budgets, Commissioner of Education Dr. John B. King Jr. said he hopes lawmakers will look more favorably on regionalization of schools.

He said while the Board of Regents put forth a proposal last year it garnered some discussion but was not passed by lawmakers.

“I’m hopeful it will move forward this year,” Dr. King said during a visit to St. Lawrence Central School on Friday.

Morristown, Hermon-DeKalb and Heuvelton Central Schools are all contemplating a regional high school.

Senate Bill 7486, brought to the floor by Senator John J. Flanagan, R-Smithtown, would give local school districts across the state the ability to form regional high schools. But Mr. Flanagan’s bill has so far failed to make it out of the Senate.

Under current legislation, school districts may merge or send their students to another district and pay tuition.

Regional high schools aren’t the only approach that schools can use to save money, according to Dr. King, who was appointed to his current post in May 2011.

“The Board of Regents has put forth a number of proposals,” including one that would have local Board of Cooperative Educational Services providing more services to component districts.

“I think the realization is we have to streamline given our resources,” Dr. King said.

He said technology will also need to play a major role as districts try to make best use of their budget dollars. That, Dr. King said, will allow districts to provide more opportunities for students.

For instance, Dr. King said, students might be able to take advantage of advanced placement courses on-line that might not be offered at their school.

“They can blend with other districts,” he said.

He noted that one school in the Capital Region used distance learning via the Internet to allow students to observe knee replacement surgery at a hospital in Ohio.

“At the end of the surgery the doctor makes himself available to debrief with students,” he said.

Those are the types of initiatives schools will have to examine as districts face budgetary challenges, Dr. King said, but they’ll have the state Education Department in their corner to assist them.

“Certainly the state Education Department, along with the Board of Regents, will advocate” for the needs of schools to continue providing a quality education to students, he said.

At the same time, he said, they have to be cognizant of the state’s fiscal situation.

“There are no easy answers,” he said.

Districts are in the preliminary stages of preparing their budget proposals for the 2013-14 school year. Those will be up for voter approval on May 14.

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