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Hamilton, Morrisville-Eaton school districts face more cuts after failed merger

By ANNA MEILER

MORRISVILLE, N.Y. (WKTV) -- Financial woes are forcing the Hamilton and Morrisville-Eaton school districts to make tough decisions about their future.

Last month, Hamilton residents voted against the two districts merging, but neither can ignore their ratings on the state comptroller's list of fiscally stressed schools. Morrisville-Eaton is susceptible to fiscal stress, Hamilton is right on the cusp.

Each district lost $2.4 million in state aid in the last four years, which may sound small compared to Utica's $20 million loss, but proportionally, these rural schools are getting gouged just as hard.

"We're at the point that every cut we make has an immediate impact with students and learning," said Dr. Diana Bowers, superintendent for the Hamilton School District.

That's because of the Gap Elimination Adjustment which has cut over $2 billion in state aid to schools since 2009.

"I think the GEA is the most sinister plot to rob from those who need and deserve it of anything in my 35 years of education," said Michael Drahos, superintendent of the Morrisville-Eaton School District.

Both districts have cut 20 percent of their staff. Morrisville-Eaton has eliminated half of their extra-curricular activities.

"Homework Club, that's eliminated, Ski Club, eliminated, Student Government at the middle school level, that's been eliminated, summer school has been eliminated, Driver's Ed cut in half. It's been significant," said Drahos.

Both superintendents are facing more cuts in the coming year.

"Parents are worried as they should be because the level of funding that the district has to run our district is continually declining. They want very much for their children to have the same quality of education that they've had in the past and they know that that's not possible," said Dr. Bowers.

So the districts are discussing sharing food and administrative services. Morrisville-Eaton is looking into closing one of their two schools and both would be open to a regional high school.

"People have been talking about regional high schools during this five-year period and there's still no real legislation and talk is talk and we have a budget and that doesn't help our kids now," said Drahos.

Bowers and Drahos agree the real change needs to come from Albany and the Gap Elimination Adjustment needs to end.

"I don't ever see us getting back to where we were in 2008 but we could perhaps begin to at least bring back some of those needed services and opportunities for kids," said Drahos.

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