By SAMANTHA MCDONNELL
OBSERVER Staff Writer
RIPLEY - It's possible that by this fall, Ripley middle and high school students could have a new home. But it's still not guaranteed.
On Tuesday, the community voted on a proposition that will "authorize (Ripley) to enter into a contract with another New York state school district for the education of all Ripley Central School District pupils in grades seven through twelve." The mood following the vote on Tuesday was "reflective," according to Ripley Central School Superintendent Karen Krause.
"The community vote was only 20 votes apart - 282 to 262. Our school community is a reflection of our community at large. There were strong feelings on both sides," she said. "Each day gets a little better and we're working through the feelings and the unknowns.
"Everybody is kind of in the same boat, facing the same kind of issues. I think this is the first vote in the county of its kind that has been successful," she continued.
The proposition, which voters approved, could not mention a specific school district according to state law. Most of the discussion has revolved around Chautauqua Lake, however. Krause said Ripley will continue to work with Chautauqua Lake on a contract.
"The focus from this point has been and will continue to be on Chautauqua Lake to find a contract that will be agreeable to both districts," Krause said. "In theory, if that's not able to be done the board could look for another partner."
Krause has been in contact with the state Department of Education and BOCES District Superintendent David O'Rourke to see if there was a timeline available for the district to follow.
"I don't have a definitive (timeline) right now," Krause said. "I have not been able to identify any timeline that the state department of education would set."
Director for Community Relations for Chautauqua Lake Wendy Westwood noted the district has reached out to Ripley.
"We did hold an open house (Feb. 4) to orient Ripley families to what is available here," she said.
Ripley is currently in a pilot program where some high school students have been taking classes at Chautauqua Lake. Some of the students have spent full days at Chautauqua Lake while others have only attended specific classes throughout the day. The program was easier to implement because Ripley already sends buses to Chautauqua Lake, like many other districts around the area, for special education.
"Since (Ripley) was running buses already, it was easy to put a few students on the bus for a pilot program," Westwood said.
The next step will be to move forward with the formal contract negotiation process between Ripley and Chautauqua Lake. When asked if tuitioning could happen in September for the 2013-14 school year, Krause was optimistic.
"I think it's possible for September," she said. "If we can get things in place and plan appropriately to make that occur for the students, we would move forward."
If the tuitioning would occur for this September, Krause noted a "pretty aggressive" timeline would need to be followed. The Chautauqua Lake District would like to tuition students to their district. Westwood said the school was built with room for the district to grow. She did note that Ripley does have the final say and the proposition did not name a specific district.
"We hope (Ripley) will engage with us but it's not a done deal," Westwood said. "Even if we put it in place on our end, Ripley has the final say."
The Chautauqua Lake Board of Education will be discussing the matter at its next board meeting on Wednesday. Westwood did see an advance copy of the meeting's agenda where the matter was listed. She was not sure how in depth the discussion will be. The board agenda and supporting documents will be available online on Monday. To find the agenda and board documents, visit the Board of Education page under the "District" tab at www.clake.org.
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