By DAVID PRENATT
Special to the OBSERVER
RIPLEY - With the failure of a bill to create a regional high school, Ripley Central School could be looking at less than four years before it could not continue to operate, board members learned.
Ripley School District Business Administrator Louann Bahgat told the board at its last meeting, based on current school revenue and declining state aid, "we are looking at a life of three or four years before we would have to have a dramatic tax increase that no one could afford in order to continue."
A tax increase of this sort would be impossible however, on account of the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, she said.
School Superintendent Karen Krause clarified this time span includes the coming year plus 2.8 years. Several factors, including the declining population of the Ripley area, decreasing state aid, a decreased town tax assessment and especially unfunded state education mandates have all contributed to the school's financial crises.
"The impact of the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) mandate alone is overwhelming," she said.
A bill, sponsored by New York State Senator Catherine Young and New York Representative Andy Goodell, passed in the senate, but was not brought to vote in the State Assembly before the end of this year's session, thereby defeating it. School Board President Robert Bentley expressed disappointment, stating a regional high school would provide educational opportunities for area students the districts involved cannot offer alone.
"The sad part of this is that the leader of the Assembly would not even let the bill come to vote," he said. "I would like to ask (Speaker Sheldon) Silver why he doesn't care about the children of Western New York. Why are we not able to give our children the opportunities he can give the children of his district?"
Board member Frederick Krause also expressed frustration.
"It's a well-known fact that we don't exist," he said. "The districts in the big cities all take precedence over us."
Board member Michael Boll encouraged the board to use the district's resources to survive.
"We are who we are and we are where we are," he said. "We need to put our foot forward and create what we need with what we have."
Krause said the district is considering different scheduling options as well as programs that allow students to attend neighboring districts to receive classes they cannot receive at Ripley. Another possibility would be to tuition high school students to the Chautauqua Lake district.
Boll cautioned the board about the public perception of tuitioning.
"There is a large portion of this community that feels we want to empty the building of grades seven through 12 and send them somewhere else," he said.
Krause noted tuitioning would be a last resort to preserve the district.
"The last thing this board wants or I want is to empty this school building," she said. "Look around this town. Without Ripley school, there is no Ripley."
Bentley praised Young and Goodell for their efforts and said the board would continue to find ways to operate.
"We will move on," he said. "We are resilient. We will look at all of the options."
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