RIPLEY - With the failure of a state bill to create a regional high school, Ripley Central School could have less than four years before it is forced to close.
Louann Bahgat, Ripley business administrator, told school board members current school revenues and declining state aid are looking at fewer than five years before a tax increase that will be well over the state's 2 percent tax cap.
"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," she said.
Karen Krause, district superintendent, said the time span includes the coming year and nearly three more years. Several factors, including the declining population of the Ripley area, decreasing state aid, a decreased town tax assessment and unfunded state education mandates.
"The impact of the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) mandate alone is overwhelming," she said.
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Catherine Young, R-Olean, and state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua, passed in the state Senate but was not brought to vote in the state Assembly before the end of this year's session. Robert Bentley, Ripley board president, 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 Mr. Silver (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 said 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."
In other business, the board held its annual reorganizational meeting. Boll was sworn in as a new member. Bentley was re-elected president for the 13th year. Nancy Rowe was re-elected vice-president.