Morning Read: North Country school districts reeling from Cuomo cuts

The region’s newspapers are full of budget pain today, and the most anguish appears to be coming from school superintendents.

They say Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cuts are running smack into unavoidable cost increases that districts have to find ways to pay for.  This from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.

“That is probably about 11.5 percent on our tax levy,” said Malone Central School Superintendent Wayne Walbridge. “Those are just natural increases we have no control over.”

Rural school leaders say that despite Cuomo’s arguments to the contrary they’re not sitting on big fund balances that will allow them to soften the blow.  This from the Watertown Daily Times.

“What’s most troubling, for our districts and most rural schools, is that they’re the most dependent on state aid because they’re the poorest districts in New York state,” said Jack J. Boak, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“There’s no industrial base and the burden unfortunately falls substantially on taxpayers. Any cut in state aid is pretty dramatic.”

According to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, schools in the Tri-Lakes are bracing for cuts that could hit 5% of their total budget.

As a percentage of its local school budget, Tupper Lake, which is the most dependent on state aid among the Tri-Lakes school districts, would be hardest-hit.

Its aid would fall by 10 percent under the governor’s proposed budget, a loss of more than $820,000 that would be the equivalent of a 5 percent cut to the district’s general fund.

We’ll see how these proposals hold up.  As NCPR reported recently, polls show that the public doesn’t like these kinds of cuts.

Quinnipiac’s Mickey Carroll says the survey finds 79% oppose cutting state aid to public schools. 69% say they don’t want health care spending reduced. But he says, those are the two biggest portions of the state budget.

“If you’ve got kids in school you don’t want school aid cut,” said Carroll. “The practical matter is these things are where the money is and the state’s in bad shape.”

So what do you think?  Time for bigger class sizes and fewer sports and arts programs?  Time to boost local property taxes?

And how about you folks living in small school districts.  Is it time to consolidate, trading a bit of your community’s local identity for some cost savings?

Comments welcome below.

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39 Responses to “Morning Read: North Country school districts reeling from Cuomo cuts”

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  1. DBW says:

    Brian -

    Any consolidation effort needs to pass the sustainability test. Does it still make sense when gas is $6.00 a gallon?

    As for higher taxes, I would go along for a while longer. When I was young I helped educate other peoples kids, then other people helped educate my kids, and now I am back to helping educate other people’s kids. That reciprocity and responsibility to one another is important to me on schools and other issues. Cutting interschool sports could be done at larger schools. A real decent intramaural program after school would serve more students than just the chosen few without all the transportation costs.

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  2. Bret4207 says:

    Gee, I thought the Lotto was going to pay for education? Huh, chalk up another win for the State.

    IMO they can cut sports entirely. But it’s going to take more than that. From my observations school budgets are rather like the State funding we discussed yesterday- they say, “We’re cutting the budget”, but what they mean is the planned 10% increase is lowered to 8% and called a cut. That’s not sustainable anymore.

    There could be some administrative positions cut in some schools I;m sure. The problem I see is the mandated requirements that the schools have to meet. Should we be required to fire a teacher, perhaps a good one at that, so we cna meet some bogus mandate based on unrealistic goals? The time is coming that the schools and taxpayers are going to have to band together and say NO to the mandates.

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  3. JDM says:

    The public school system should be consolidated. One county school that has the best of everything – good teachers, sports, art, music, etc.

    Then, vouchers.

    Everyone can choose to either go to the top-rated county public school, or any private school of their choosing.

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  4. Mervel says:

    This may indeed force consolidation, particularly in places like St. Lawrence County which has far too many school districts for the size of the school aged population. Much of the current expenses do NOT go to the classroom but to overhead, superintendents, principles, CSE chairs, counselors, school psychologists, secretaries, heating, facilities maintenance, and so forth. All of those types of expenses could be reduced by consolidation.

    You would not have to increase class sizes or reduce classroom teachers either. In the long run this could actually improve education in some areas. The more focus that goes to where education actually happens, which is the classroom, and the less that goes to anything that happens outside of the classroom is a good thing.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    Vouchers are meaningless in the Adirondacks.
    Consolidation is inevitable.
    There needs to be a cap on salaries for superintendents, including BOCES and upon presidents at public colleges.
    Mandates do need to go or be funded by the state.

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  6. JDM says:

    Pete:

    Please elaborate:

    Vouchers are meaningless in the Adirondacks… because….

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    Because for most towns the only game in town is the local public school.
    By the way, not a voucher but darn close to it, is how counties are required to pay transportation costs for special ed students who need to travel outside the county to get the special education. This is but one of those unfunded mandates.

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  8. Brian says:

    Bret is right (imagine that! =) about the mandates. They are suffocating the state and are primarily responsible for the outrageous property taxes. A state imposed cap by itself will be useless, except to do more harm than good. Brian M reported earlier this year that 80-90% of the typical upstate county’s expenses are mandated by Albany. When people vote for or against school budgets, they are only voting on the 8-10% that is discretionary.

    Brian M, you complained earlier that people complained about mandates generically but not specifically. I cited one about the expensive automatic external defribulators that the state mandated schools carry (multiple of) a few years ago. Here’s another one. The local daily recently ran an article about how the local hospital has to adjust to a new state mandate that it offer free HIV testing to anyone who can’t afford it. HIV testing is important but if the state’s going to mandate hospitals do it at no charge for the end user, the state should pay for it. If they don’t than either the tab’s going to be passed along to the rest of the patients or other services will be cut back to provide this testing.

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  9. dbw says:

    One county school is St. Lawrence County? Not very workable. SLC is 2860 square miles, one quarter the size of the whole state of Vermont. Transporting students from Hammond to Canton, or Piercefield to Potsdam? The transportation costs would be prohibitive. We might better consolidate administrative costs. In an energy challenged future, decentralization will be the way to go. A return to neighborhood schools, wired to deliver some classes, and shared services and teachers among schools.

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  10. JDM says:

    Pete says, “Because for most towns the only game in town is the local public school.”

    Pete, this is what vouchers are for. These people take their vouchers right back to their public schools and they’re good to go.

    Those few, if that is the case, or many, who do not wish to go to public schools, can choose another system.

    I don’t understand the argument against vouchers simply based on proportion. I guarantee you, there are some in the “Adirondacks” as you put it, who do not use the public school system.

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  11. Mervel says:

    Having one school district in SLC would not mean increased busing. It would mean having one central administration and one school district. The village schools, particularly the grade schools would stay where they are now. Some of the tiny high schools may have to go, but most would not.

    You do not need a superintendent, business manager, school psychologist, high school principle, middle school principle and grade school principle, a maintenance supervisor, bus supervisors, high school counselor, grade school counselors, reading specialists high school reading specialists grade school and on and on; for a school with a TOTAL K-12 enrollment of 200-300 kids. What we need is one principle for a school of that size; the rest would come out of the district office. The savings would be huge by forcing a consolidation. Dr. Kennedy of SUNY canton proposed this some time ago it is not a nutty idea, but one that up until now was politically impossible to win.

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  12. Mervel says:

    One district would actually be good for teachers as it would allow them more mobility and flexibility between schools in the district. If one school was overstaffed they could simply transfer teachers to another school within the district without having to go through a whole new hire process. Jobs would be protected with this flexibility. You would have one union to deal with, one set of health care issues to deal with which would likely mean lower costs.

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  13. Myown says:

    In my opinion vouchers are just wrong. Public money should be spent only on public schools, not given away so it can be spent on a private school. If you want to go to to a private school fine, but pay for it yourself. Would it be acceptable that I could get a voucher for my tax dollars that support the military and hire a private security company instead?

    Mervel hit it on the head with a good summary. We are talking about school district consolidation not necessarily closing schools. Much of the savings would be from eliminating redundant administrative costs.

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  14. Bret4207 says:

    IMO these mandates, be they State or Federal, are coming to their end. They are simply unsustainable. Many are no doubt the result of a real need that occurred somewhere in the past, but unless the issue is still viable it’s time to say goodbye to them. But, that’s going to require the vast majority of those affected standing together and saying no. Whether it’s mandated hiring practices, equipment, protocol, personnel or curriculum it’s got to stop. Lawmakers establish rules with no thought to paying for the results of those rules or implementing them. It’s got to stop.

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  15. DSrd says:

    All this hand wringing about the connection between spending and education is education establishment propagana.
    There are too many administrators and too many teachers assistants and the public is paying too great a share of teachers retirment and health costs.
    We spend far too much per student in our schools and get an unsatisfactory result.

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  16. JDM says:

    Myown says,

    “If you want to go to to a private school fine, but pay for it yourself.”

    That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to first pay for a public system that I don’t use, then a private system that I do use.

    I’m sure you wouldn’t want to first pay for my kids to go private school, then pay for yours to go to public school.

    That’s like making you pay first for a Government Motors Volt, and then go buy the car of your choice. (oh, wait. That is coming).

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  17. oa says:

    “I don’t want to first pay for a public system that I don’t use, then a private system that I do use.”

    I do. Because that gives me the freedom to choose a private school curriculum that teaches, for example, that evolution is nonsense, and the government can’t get its greedy liberal paws on it. With government voucher money coming into private or parochial schools, that freedom is threatened, because big government will make my private school teach stuff like, “Darwin is right.”
    If the secular humanists want to teach the poor kids who are too dumb to afford private school that evolution is true, I’ll pay for that gladly, and watch my kids, who will know the real Truth, come out ahead.

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  18. JDM says:

    oa, “If the secular humanists want to teach the poor kids who are too dumb to afford private school that evolution is true, I’ll pay for that gladly, and watch my kids, who will know the real Truth, come out ahead.”

    It turns out, this is, in effect, what I am doing.

    I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but I see that as of 2009, 11% of students and 25% of schools are not being indoctrinated in evoluation, global warming, socialism, etc.

    Hey, I will gladly pay for that!

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  19. Myown says:

    JDM says: “I don’t want to first pay for a public system that I don’t use, then a private system that I do use.”

    You don’t have a choice. That is part of the social contract of living in the United States. You don’t get to pick and choose what you want your taxes to pay for. If you don’t like how the town plows your road can you expect to get a voucher of public money to hire your own? Public schools are a public service that the public recognizes provides a public benefit and agrees to pay for it with public funds. People pay taxes for public schools whether they have school age kids or not. If the public school doesn’t happen to meet your political or religious persuasion fine, you can send your kids elsewhere to learn an alternate reality. But that does not relieve your obligation as a member of the community to pay your share of public education. And there is no obligation for the community to subsidize you if you choose not to send your kids to public schools.

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  20. Jim says:

    Time to switch health Insurance plans for most schools. In Saranac Lake the cost for a family plan is around $20000./yr and the teachers contribute very little but more than the Tupper Lake teachers. Join the rest of the world, go to a higher deductible plan(at least $1000.)and require a contribution of at least 25-30% of the premium. That alone will save Saranac Lake district close to a million $$$$/yr. Doing this would save several staff/teachers from potential layoffs.

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  21. tootightmike says:

    We should recognise the outrageous cost of insurance, and while employees probably should contribute more…take note that no one at the health insurance company is wringing their hands over this. They’ve got us all over a barrel, and have worked long and hard to build their costs into law…whether the public can afford it or not.

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  22. JDM says:

    Myown:

    You will change your tune when you are MANDATED to buy a particular government recommended car – before you can choose your own car.

    You will change your tune when you first have to buy government insurance, before you can go to a physician of your choice.

    Of course, you don’t seem to mind that the government is taking 15% of your pay at 0%-1% over your lifetime for your retirement, and then you save for your own “real” retirement.

    So, maybe you are content after all.

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  23. Pete Klein says:

    This might be a little off subject but…
    How about we have a law that requires a teacher to live in the school district where they teach?

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  24. oa says:

    JDM, you and I are totally on the same page, then, except that you want the government to pay for your kids’ private schooling and keep them away from evolution and fluid mechanics. I can respect that.

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  25. scratchy says:

    Speaking of school health insurance policies, the Citizens Budget Commission has a report out showing how little North Country school district teachers contribute to their helath insurance compared to other school districts and state employees.

    http://www.cbcny.org/cbc-blogs/blogs/school-districts-should-achieve-substantial-savings-following-state-practices-employ
    http://www.cbcny.org/sites/default/files/BLOG_Figure1_02022011_0.jpg

    Schools should start cutting back on their health insurance benefits. A 10% contribution for individual plans and 25% for family plans is not unreasonable.

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  26. Myown says:

    JDM:
    I hear ya but I think you are trying to compare apples and oranges. Public education is the result of a long standing social agreement that communities should provide an education to all children via a community run public school.

    Public education is similar to other public services that government provides that most of us agree are important for the common good even if we personally don’t use or need all of them.

    No one mandates you have to buy a particular car. And many private health insurance companies “encourage” you to use their participating providers or else pay more if you want to use a non-participating doctor or service.

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  27. oa says:

    Nice try, Myown, with this: “Public education is the result of a long standing social agreement that communities should provide an education to all children via a community run public school.”

    I think you missed the memo. Life is all about JDM. And me. And not them, in those public schools learning evolution.

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  28. Myown says:

    sorry, my bad ;-)

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  29. JDM says:

    When the public schools have to start competing with private schools for tax dollars, both the private schools and public schools will, of necessity, have to improve.

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  30. Mervel says:

    I think the Amish have it right. If you don’t want the government in your life don’t take things from the government. The point was made earlier and it is a good one; that if you have government vouchers paying for private schools you will have more government control of private education you will have DOE people from Albany telling schools that they must do xy or z if they want approval to get vouchers.

    Government money will infect and corrupt private education.

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  31. Mervel says:

    If the private schools want to sell their souls for the money fine, but be ready to take direction from your new bosses. I know Catholic schools and the Church want public vouchers, but it is a BIG mistake. It is better to close down than to be a slave of the state and teach what the state approves. If you take money from the state you must bow down to the state.

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  32. JDM says:

    Mervel: “If you take money from the state you must bow down to the state.”

    Mervel. The point about vouchers is that the state takes money from you. By the same logic, they must bow to us.

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  33. Bret4207 says:

    This gets a little complex than some make it. No, the gov’t doesn’t mandate which car you buy, but they so mandate things like airbags and impact structure that add to the cost of the vehicle. They do mandate 10% ethanol in our fuel, which costs more to produce than it sells for and damages many types of equipment AND drives up commodity prices which costs you and me more at the grocery store. They mandate course structure and content and student to teacher/teachers aide ratios, what foods are served, what can and cannot be said at our schools. They mandate this and that and there is fundamentally little we can do about it. Social contract my Aunt Minnie! There is no recourse for disagreement with the mandates. Where is that in the “contract”?

    But hey, we can go on making snide comments about evolution and faith and worrying about where the money is going to come from to keep Aunt Lois in her teachers aide position. Meanwhile, the Young Prince is going ahead with more State Land purchases!!! Oh yeah, screw the taxpayer is still the motto in Albany.

    http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/17093/20110203/green-groups-say-big-adirondack-land-deals-back-on-the-table

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  34. Pete Klein says:

    You want vouchers? How about we just get rid of public schools and let people who can afford it to send their kids to a private school if they can afford it but without any voucher support from tax payers? This way the sacred tax payers won’t have to pay for education.

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  35. Mervel says:

    The cost per student at many north country small schools is more than the tuition at expensive private schools in NYS. So we are already paying elite school prices.

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  36. Mervel says:

    Vouchers would not change that.

    However I think public school choice would be a good thing with funding tied to enrollment.

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  37. Pete Klein says:

    There are no simple answers here. Comparisons don’t work because you are always comparing apples and oranges.
    It costs more to educate fewer kids because you still have to teach the same number of subjects and these equals teachers.
    Consolidation is an idea but becomes a problem in the Adirondacks and other North Country communities because of distance. How long and how far should students be subjected to being on a bus? 12 miles one way? 24 miles one way? 36 miles one way?
    Vouchers? Who pays for the vouchers? The tax payers in the school district? The state? Somebody pays. The tax payer pays and if the student is removed from one district to another or at “private school,” the cost of education at the school the student left does not go down.
    In my above post, I really am not suggesting kids shouldn’t go to school. What I was suggesting is it does seem to be what some people would like to see happen. They care only about their self. They would be perfectly happy to see the uneducated end up in prison and provide work for prison guards. And just who do you think pays for prison guards?

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  38. Mervel says:

    Pete, consolidation does not necessarily mean you close or combine individual schools. It does mean that you do NOT need a 100k+ superintendent a 85K plus principle numerous reading specialists, resource room teachers, and counselors for a little school of 200 kids. You could provide all of those services out of one central district with one superintendent and all of the specialist services as needed.

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  39. Mervel says:

    How many of our school leaders employed in administration at our schools are going to push consolidation?

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