By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
JOHNSTOWN -- "Merging without merging" and a "regional high school without a building."
Those are the two concepts that Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel told superintendents and school board members representing all 14 of the organization's component districts they should begin exploring if they hoped to be able grow their educational offerings.
Michel presented "Regionalization at HFM BOCES: A Response to the Governor's Education Agenda" Wednesday night during a meeting of the Mohawk Sacandaga School Boards Association.
"I've seen your budgets ,and I know what you've got, and a lot of the people in this room could not be here in five years, fiscally," Michel said.
Michel's proposal calls for the creation of three zones: The Glove Cities Zone, which would include Gloversville, Johnstown and Wheelerville; The Greater Sacandaga Zone, including Broadalbin-Perth, Edinburg, Lake Pleasant, Mayfield, Northville and Wells; and the Mohawk Valley Zone, comprised of Amsterdam, Canajoharie, Fonda-Fultonville, Fort Plain and the newly created Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville school district.
Using Niskayuna High School, which currently is able to offer 41 honors courses and 23 AP courses, as an example of a district with significant educational offerings, Michel said he hoped to drive home the possibilities some form of regionalization could offer.
"If you look at the region, you start to add up to what Niskayuna has," Michel said. "As individual school districts, we can't expand quickly enough to accept all that, but if we work together, we can."
Michel said the "regional collaborative" could be overseen by a "governing board" comprised of district superintendents and board presidents and would include a central BOCES administration that would feature a central business office, a director of special education, a director of professional development/curriculum instruction, administration, transportation, professional learning communities and a director of human resources.
Each of the schools within a particular zone could share course offerings, as well as teachers, with each possibly focusing on various strengths (i.e. technology, art, etc...,) and the students themselves would travel within their own zone as needed.
The collaborative, Michel said, would require significant logistical planning, including the establishment of a regional transportation system and a common bell schedule, as well as substantial "seed" money, which he hoped to be able to obtain through grants.
Unlike a traditional merger, however, it would not require legislation.
Michel called the regionalization initiative a response the several key issues facing the districts, including restricted revenues, diminishing programs, lack of mandate relief, the availability of state grants, and the Governor's obvious push toward consolidation and shared services.
Forming a collaborative, Michel said, would not only enable the districts to grow they're educational offerings, it would put them in the best position to increase their "resource flow" with respect to the Governor's grant programs, as well as BOCES aid.
MIchel also warned that if school officials in the region did not take a more proactive approach toward consolidation and sharing of services, he feared the measures would be taken for them.
Comparing the governor's penchant for education reform to that of his gun control initiatives, Michel said: "When the governor wants it, he will shove it down your throat."
Michel advised the school officials in attendance to take the proposals back to their individual boards for discussion, after which he hopes to be able to create a schedule of meetings in which area superintendents and school board presidents can further explore the matter.
If every district decides that it would like to pursue regionalization plans, Michel said he expected the whole process to take approximately three years, but knowing that time is of the essence for some districts already in dangerous financial straits, he added that the process could move more quickly with a dedicated effort.
The Mohawk Sacandaga School Boards Association will meet again in March.