Regional high school legislation has once again stalled in the state Legislature.
The option to regionalize is a tool in the arsenal of small rural schools facing financial hardship, such as several in Chautauqua County that are pursuing the idea. The state Assembly voted down regional high school legislation recently. The legislation, pushed through the state Senate by Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, and supported by Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, proposed the option for "two or more school districts in certain counties to enter into a contract to establish and operate a regional high school."
Comprehensive plans for finances, staffing, special education, curriculum, building use, enrollment, cost savings, transportation, athletics and other extracurricular activities were included in the regional high school contract. The contract also indicated that the regional high school is responsible for each student's academic achievement, as well as awarding diplomas upon graduation.
Regionalization can be an innovative solution to help small schools combat lack of funding and still meet state mandates. Under the proposed legislation, two or more schools could pool their resources and small-town students would reap the benefits of having a larger student body and faculty. Activities and events that may have otherwise fallen by the wayside due to low enrollment numbers could continue and students would gain expanded academic, sports and other extra-curricular offerings. In return, the school districts would save money, according to Goodell.
In Chautauqua County, the Ripley, Brocton, Chautauqua Lake and Westfield districts have discussed pursuing a regional high school.
"I support a regional high school concept," Goodell said. "First and foremost, it improves education for a lot of our high school students. Several schools have seen a significant decrease in enrollment. With a regional high school, it allows local school districts to offer quality elective and academic courses. We've also heard it will save the schools $2 million to $3 million by streamlining the costs."
Sen. Young spoke to the need for and benefits of regionalization.
"As student enrollments continue to drop, it is becoming harder to offer the level of education our kids need and deserve. This concept is a creative solution that has been embraced by many groups, including the state Board of Regents. Schools will be able to offer many more advanced placement courses and extracurricular clubs and activities now. Regional high schools also will increase our students' abilities to compete and succeed on a higher level," she said.
When asked about the future of regional high school legislation in the state, Goodell said he may try to pursue a separate bill to regionalize high schools in Chautauqua County in the coming year, noting previous success in pushing local legislation through the assembly.
"I may try to do that," he said. "It's worked in the past."