State Must Act On Regional High Schools

Months of hard work by Ripley and Chautauqua Lake school officials have paid off with a tuition agreement between the two school districts that allow 131 Ripley students in seventh through 12th grades to attend Chautauqua Lake Central School in the 2013-14 school year.

It is good that Ripley students will have the opportunity to take more electives while Ripley taxpayers could see a 4.1 percent decrease in taxes when the 2013-14 budget is finished. Meanwhile, Chautauqua Lake was built with room to grow – something that hasn’t happened over the years as the district’s population has decreased. The tuitioning agreement means the school receives a needed influx of money while picking up little additional cost.

It’s safe to say the tuitioning agreement is good for both sides.

It is also safe to say the tuitioning agreement almost didn’t happen. Ripley residents had to make a tough decision to send many of their children to a neighboring school district. If 10 Ripley residents voted differently in February, the whole agreement would have fallen apart. The process didn’t get any easier once Ripley residents gave the authority for the district to pursue a tuitioning plan. The process has been difficult because there wasn’t an existing process to follow, which made negotiations painstaking. We’re sure there were times, behind closed doors, when Ripley and Chautauqua Lake officials felt like ending these discussions.

Despite all the good that has been done and the hard work put into these talks, Ripley and Chautauqua Lake officials believe enough in the concept of regional high schools to build an opt-out clause into their eight-year agreement in case regional high school legislation is ever approved by the state Legislature.

Everyone seems to think regional high schools are a good idea. The same economies of scale that are making the tuitioning agreement fiscally responsible are behind the idea of regional high schools. School officials have been behind the idea for years because of the potential to improve education and save money. The state Board of Regents approved the concept in 2012 as a concept that may keep the existing state’s education structure viable until such a time as mergers and consolidations are accepted by the general public.

State legislators seemed to be on board last year, too, before talks fell apart in July. Dozens of state legislators, for reasons known only to them and their friends in the teachers’ unions, can’t wrap their heads around the idea of regional high schools.

That must change.

Now that the state budget is finalized, state legislators need to approve bills allowing the creation of regional high schools.