Better Together? Tune In To Find Out

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School is right around the corner for students in the north country.

But come September, kids will see big changes in the classroom.

"In a year alone, our districts eliminated 200 teaching positions," said Jay Boak, superintendent of Jeff-Lewis BOCES.

Teachers cut, programs cut, athletics cut - schools struggling to stay afloat.

They are drastic and necessary measures as schools try to survive the budget battle.

So why have things gotten so bad?

Well, it's complicated, but basically less state aid and more restrictions on how much money schools can raise through taxes are to blame.

"I think this is unprecedented in the history of our schools in terms of the amount of aid that's being withheld," said Tom Burns, superintendent of St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES.

But there may be a lifeline for schools out there - schools coming together, combining and thriving.

Considerthe hub of Upper Canada School District across the border in Brockville, Ontario.

It's a district covering eight counties and nearly 4,500 square miles.

It's an end result of several schools merging in the 1960's.

"If you go through the newspapers, you can see, 'This will be the end of the community. This is the end of this,'" said David Thomas, Upper Canada Director of Education.

But it wasn't the end, it was just the beginning.

And now Upper Canada, a collection of schools under one umbrella, operates with a $360 million budget and more than 5,000 staff members.

There are no budget crunches.

So the big question is: How do you manage a school district this big?

Well, by making bigger smaller through organization.

"Kids want to know that you know their name, and you know what they're about. And even in large schools you can do that if you organize your resources," said Thomas.

And combining resources.

But a district this big may not work in the north country.

Still, the concept of several districts coming together is being studied by schools in St. Lawrence County.

"It would allow schools to combine their 7-12 {grades} or their 9-12 populations only. They could retain their elementary schools," said Burns.

Of course, there are hurdles to clear before the idea of a regional school here becomes reality.

On Wednesday, we'll explore some of those issues and look at two schools down state embarking on a new journey together.

7 News reporter Matt McClusky explores the concept of regional schools in a two-part series titled "Better Together?"
 
Part 2 airs Wednesday on 7 News at 6.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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