Are North Country schools bleeding out?

Will we find a way to reinvent North Country schools?

The story in the Plattsburgh Press Republican last week said it all.  Peru’s central school district is scrambling to close a $2.9 million gap for next year’s budget — and this follows in the wake of roughly $1 million in cuts last year.

”It’s been painful,” School Board member Lisa Crosby said at the meeting, according to the P-R. “This year is going to be devastatingly painful.”

The same narrative is playing out across the North Country.  District after district is moving forward, year by year, with “incremental” cuts that are slowly gutting the quality and richness of our public schools.

Today’s Glens Falls Post Star talks about school districts making “desperate choices.”

“We are trying to stretch out ours as long as we can,” Fort Ann Superintendent Maureen VanBuren told the newspaper. “None of us want to be the first ones to figure out what to do if we become insolvent.”

It’s like that old tale about the frog.  You throw a frog into a boiling pot of water and it does its best to hop out.  But if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll cook without ever noticing.

That’s what we’re seeing happen before our eyes.  Education programs are hollowing out.  Value-added programs for talented kids are being stripped away.

Support programs for children with special needs shelved or trimmed back to the point of meaninglessness.

And the thing is that everyone knows we’re still just setting off on this journey.  Schools across the region see their population of kids dwindling, their funding going down.

Unless we get a grip on this, it will be a million dollars in cuts here and million dollars in cuts there until someone turns out the lights.

Before I talk about possible solutions, let me first acknowledge the hard work that boards of education, administrators and teachers have been doing already

When the economy tanked in 2008, the state budget toppled into a meat grinder, and property tax revenues flattened.  The poor folks running our schools found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of a global meltdown.

Then, when the 2% property tax cap sailed through the legislature, they were promised help with mandate reform that never arrived.

While everyone else was talking in abstract terms about lean government  — this means you, Governor Cuomo — local schools had to do the brutal work of actually cutting important programs.

But the hard truth is that this is the future.

No one I talk to thinks that funding for education is ever going to soar back to the growth levels we once enjoyed.  Nor are costs for things like pensions, energy, and healthcare going to shrink.

So the time has come for education leaders in our region to pivot from desperately bailing the old life boat to building a better new boat that will survive the coming storm.

Here are six concrete steps that can help save (at least some of) our public schools.

1.  Stop talking about the past.  Stop denying that fundamental change is inevitable.

I get it, we all love our schools.  We wish they could continue to look the same and do the same things going forward that they used to do.  But that’s over.

The truth is that everything changed about five years ago and we’re just waking up to the fact.  Unless we put all our options on the table and talk about how to create a new, affordable model for schools, the future will be extraordinarily painful.

2.  Each school district needs a new vision, driven by community values.

Districts should convene community dialogues to decide what exactly it is that schools can and must do.  What is the core, the heart, the essential mission?  This will guide the rest of the conversation.

When we cut programs (and we will cut programs) which should be held sacred?  When we’re forced to partner with other districts (and we will be forced to partner and share and merge) how do those alliances serve our core values?

When should we be willing to go beyond the 2% property tax cap?

It’s also important to clarify which local values match (or don’t match) the educational mandates coming from Albany.  That way, we’ll know which fights to pick.

3.  All the old turf garbage has to be thrown out.  Right now.

The Los Angeles Central School district educates more than 640,000 kids, spread over a vast geographic area, tackling levels of cultural diversity and neighborhood conflict that we can’t even begin to imagine.

In our hearts, we all know that the north Country’s balkanized, village-by-village education system is a throwback to the horse and buggy days.

So no more muttering about how different Keene is from Elizabethtown, or how awesome the geographic and cultural divides are between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.  Start partnering and sharing and merging.  It’s time.  It’s do-or-die.

Click map to view full size.

Even if you do all the things in steps 1, 2 and 3, things are going to get tough.  Especially if some of your core values require some lofty or expensive goals.  So talk honestly about that.

If your community insists on maintaining a fully autonomous district, even if you have only a few hundred (or a few dozen) kids, make it plain that that approach will almost certainly cost local taxpayers — big time.   Lay out the numbers.

5.  Open a new dialogue with teachers.

Teachers have values too, obviously, and those go beyond salary and benefits.  So put everything on the table.  What’s the new model for fair and reasonable, sustainable and respectful compensation?

Take the conversation deeper than a traditional short-term contract negotiation.  What will give teachers real job satisfaction? More job security?  Better pupil-teacher ratios? More training or support in the classroom?

Are there innovative trade-offs that can make teachers happier and more affordable at the same time?  Teachers, meanwhile, need to force their unions to think more broadly than pushing for annual pay increases and holding the line on pensions.

Again, stop denying that fundamental change is inevitable.

5.  Be sure to set positive goals as well as negative ones.

Yes, your plan going forward will include painful decisions.  Consolidation, closed buildings, fewer teachers and programs.  All those are possible, and even likely.

But once you have your values in place, find some programs that are important enough that they need to grow and get better.  Become a magnet school.  Develop some specialties.

When you have to go beyond the property tax cap to pay for the school  district’s core values, don’t be afraid of asking voters to do that.

In the end, I suspect that a lot of schools won’t engage this kind of transformational, values-driven discussion.  They’ll keep fighting to maintain something that resembles the familiar and the normal.

They’ll keep thinking year-to-year, stretching out those fund reserves as long as possible.  They’ll keep making what feel like responsible, pragmatic short-term decisions.

Meanwhile, the heart of the education experience will bleed out.

But those North Country districts that will still be strong in the year 2026 — when the current batch of kindergartners will be graduating from high school — are those that begin right now to plan for the inevitable transformation.

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118 Responses to “Are North Country schools bleeding out?”

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  1. JDM says:

    Brian Mann: this is the fallacy of government-run anything… Your 6 points, though thoughtful, will go unheeded for the rest of our lifetime, and perhaps our children and grandchildren.

    What will happen, in truth, is our taxes will go up, and the services provided in public education will go down.

    That will take place immediately.

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  2. JDM says:

    The conservative way to enact thoughtful change is to wrestle control of education out of the hands of an over-bloated, inefficient, mindless government, and put it back in the hands of individuals, non-government groups, and responsive representation.

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  3. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Just addressing item #3- LA County may have half a million kids. But LA county doesn’t bus kids 3 hours away! That’s basically what some of our districts would be doing if they consolidated. If Long Lake, Newcomb and Indian Lake consolidated, some of the kids would be riding the bus pretty close to 3 hours just to get to school. Go way conservative and call it 2 hours. It’s still far more than the supposed max of 1 hour. Even here in SLC we have kids spend 1:45 min every day getting to school and again to get home. My second set of kids is first on, last off- 1:45 minutes. Complaints do no good. So we switched schools and drive them in. Is a parent, as Pete said some weeks back, at the end of Big Brook Road in Indian Lake going to drive their kids to Newcomb twice a day? The alternative is busing them for 2 hours or maybe 3. What other alternative is there? Who will put their kids on a bus at 5AM?

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  4. mervel says:

    My family lives in South Dakota, they ranch. The nearest school is 70 miles away so they home school until high school then board them in town. Living in an isolated region is OUR choice living in a less isolated region is also a choice. We can’t expect the taxpayers to spend money supporting our choices. If you want to keep these tiny districts open then as Brian points out pay for it yourself with your local property taxes. The local school districts should be able to lay out the exact increases in property taxes which are going to be needed for the no change option.

    But I think Brian has great points here, we need to get real its time to junk the old way of thinking. One of the old ways of thinking was that the entire strategy was begging to the state for more aid and how to beg (lobby) more effectively, Coumo has pretty well said that strategy is over we are NOT getting substantially more aid from the state, maybe a little, but now it is up to us to solve these issues. So what exactly do these options cost lets lay it out and look at what the hit would be to consolidate to not consolidate and so forth.

    Consolidation is certainly the future and how to do that effectively is I think the real meat of the strategy. Consolidation does not always mean closing schools, it also does not always mean a loss of jobs for teachers.

    Also we need to focus on classroom education first as a priority, everything else would come second or third. You would never lay off a classroom teacher for example to be able to keep some non-classroom positions or programs. But anyway those are the details. I think Brian makes some great points here.

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  5. Paul says:

    This is all band aid stuff. The problem is a lack of economic activity to support the schools. The writing is on the wall if you can’t fix that then it is just a matter of time. You can consolidate, cut costs, raise taxes, do all this stuff and it is only buying you time.

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  6. Brian Mann says:

    JDM –

    Come on. I mean, really. These school districts are run by the most local, most directly and intimately democratic organizations possible. Your neighbors run these districts, and teach in these districts. So trotting out all the old conservative big government rhetoric is just tedious. In fact, districts have already made profound changes and negotiated incredible shifts in their operations. They’ve been far more nimble and flexible than almost any branch of government.

    Rancid –

    I know busing is going to be a big issue. But I think that yes, people who live in remote areas of the North Country with very few children are going to face long bus routes, or need to make some other accomodation like the one you’ve made. Maybe there are more creative solutions. But the bottom line is that if you choose to live in a very small, very remote community I think it will be difficult for your neighbors to support the kind of infrastructure needed to educate your child locally.

    I do think some middle grounds will be possible – perhaps having local, small one-room elementary schools, and only begin busing kids long distances in middle and high school. And as I say, there may be other creative ideas.

    One solution, certainly, is to identify “hub” school locations where they make the most sense. Another answer may be to maintain most school operations where they are now, but merge administrative functions and also link together regional special education, arts and advanced placement programs.

    To help facilitate this discussion, I’ve added a map of existing school districts in the Adirondack Park. Obviously, this is a challenge that also faces districts outside the blue line.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  7. JDM says:

    Brian Mann: ” Your neighbors run these districts, and teach in these districts.”

    Point taken.

    I would add that we should dismiss the Department of Education at the Federal level.

    Mrs. Obama was the showcase of how not to dictate Federal mandates.

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  8. david says:

    NY public schools are a complete failure. Alternative Charter schools and/or vouchers for private schools need to be considered as a viable solution as is already done in most of the country. Funding will remain a problem due to an aging tax base and fewer families moving into the area.

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  9. mervel says:

    Well Paul I don’t see a burst of economic development on the horizon, and even if that did occur it would take generations to have an impact in our local schools.

    Small rural school districts do exist throughout the country we just have to come to grips with how to effectively provide education in that environment.

    I do think there are sustainable options. But the fact is we are not going to get any sympathy from parents or school systems downstate who have 1/2 million kid districts with large class sizes, when we walk in with a 500 child district that has a full administrative structure including a raft of counselors, special ed teachers, programs, and complain about 28 kids in a class. That model has to end. 500 kids is the size of many classes within one high school in NYS, one principle is handling 1500 children, one superintendent is handling 300,000 kids.

    We have to change.

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  10. mervel says:

    Or not, we have the option of fully funding our schools locally and that IS an option that we could choose.

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  11. Paul says:

    “I do think some middle grounds will be possible – perhaps having local, small one-room elementary schools, and only begin busing kids long distances in middle and high school. And as I say, there may be other creative ideas.

    One solution, certainly, is to identify “hub” school locations where they make the most sense. Another answer may be to maintain most school operations where they are now, but merge administrative functions and also link together regional special education, arts and advanced placement programs.”

    Yes, you can do all this again this all to temporarily hold off the inevitable. Brian, this may buy enough time to get your kids and my families kids up there into college but probably not much beyond that. Down here where my kids are we are talking about ways to boost economic activity to change the trajectory of the problem. We need to do the same thing up there otherwise these temporary things will be just that – temporary.

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  12. Paul says:

    Look at the Lake Placid school building in the picture. It was probably built when fuel oil was 5 cents a gallon.

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  13. marcusaurelius says:

    All your points are good ones, Brian. However, I do not think we can overlook how regressive New York State’s education funding system is. This study spells it out (http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/StealthInequities.pdf), and also shows how other states are doing a good job at funding their schools in an equitable manner. The Governor throws around a lot of statistics about NYS education but he never acknowledges how low we are ranked as far as equitable funding – in the bottom 10! The truly disgusting part of this is that no one even bothers denying the inequities, they just shrug and say “what can we do”. My response is “How about the job you were elected to do”
    The above mentioned report is long, but it explains some very interesting things about all sources of revenue for schools, a number of which don’t appear on state aid runs, such as STAR reimbursements. It is a very comprehesive look at how schools are funded in the U.S.

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  14. Peter Hahn says:

    “Just addressing item #3- LA County may have half a million kids. But LA county doesn’t bus kids 3 hours away!”

    When I was a school bus driver in California my routes were at least two hours. – Those were elementary school kids and the bus was packed – 3 to a seat in every seat. The school bus I rode as a rural elementary school student was at least an hour.

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  15. mervel says:

    Paul do you think economic conditions in the North Country are getting much worse or are static?

    From my perspective we have had a pretty bad economy since I have lived here for the past 15 years, I don’t see it getting better and I don’t see it getting worse. It is what it is.

    I think we should plan around an economy that looks like it does right now and find what is sustainable within that framework. I just don’t see any changes that would mean large scale economic development in the North Country.

    Something like a gas exploration boom would certainly change things and help greatly with our schools and our population declines, but do you realistically see something like that happening in NYS? I don’t.

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  16. Ken Hall says:

    I lived in Peru from 1978 to 1987 when I worked at PAFB. During that time frame the Peru school district had an outsized student population because of an archaic USAF policy of the day. The school age dependents of USAF personnel living in base housing were separated with Officer personnel dependents attending school in Plattsburgh and Enlisted personnel dependents attending school in Peru. My first wife drove a school bus for Peru so I had a small amount of first hand information about Peru school district plans and policies.

    Prior to the announcement by the BRAC that PAFB was indeed going to be closed it was well understood within the military community that it was inevitable since the FB-111 sister base in New Hampshire was selected for closure some years prior. The reason for my departure was the knowledge that the Strategic Operations at PAFB were ending; yet within the same time frame the Peru School District was in the process of acquiring approximately 100 contiguous acres upon which they intended to construct a brand new school, apparently based upon a faulty consensus that the outsized student population and Federal funding was a permanent condition; does this sound similar to another nearby installation? Fortunately, prior to procuring the property the school management must have been appraised of the grievous mistake they were about to engage in and the property was not acquired; however, as with most if not all of the school districts in the North Country large dollar renovations and additions were ultimately accomplished at the existing Peru school funded in part by NY downstate tax dollars.

    Brian is partially correct with contention that “The truth is that everything changed about five years ago and we’re just waking up to the fact.” The economic change that became very evident about 5 years ago did not suddenly arise from whole cloth. The concept that the vast majority of homo sapiens appear to be unable to come to grips with, or even consider, is that the discovery of vast quantities of energy in the form of sequestered hydrocarbons and the mechanisms with which to convert same into more useful, to humans, forms is, was and remains the method by which we created and maintain the so called high standards of living currently enjoyed by perhaps one third of the 7 billion+ humans swarming about on Earth. As long humans continue to insist that an invisible sky deity grants every human the “right” to have as many offspring as “he” desires and dominion over all flora fauna and the land to do with as “he” wishes (women are also provided for the man to dominate over) the economic crunch of 2007/8 and the 1929/40 economic crash were but minor harbingers of the “real” crash that is inevitable, sans a major paradigm change in human culture.

    The currently revered capitalism economic model of exponential expansion of everything (humans, widgets, sales, houses, automobiles, ., ., .,wealth) coupled with the corollary of exponential consumption of the Earth’s resources appears to have enabled evolution to engender the majority of the current crop of magical thinking humans capable of believing that the Earth is an infinite source of everything they desire, no end in sight. The last time I checked we were still constrained to living upon the Earth, contrary to the let us “rocket” off and start colonizing the rest of the universe by the so called “futurist” thinkers. Until and unless humans come to the realization that human society must, and does, rein in it’s out of control tendencies the likelihood of a long term population of humans existing on the Earth becomes vanishingly small.

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  17. Peter Hahn says:

    In the city school districts, the schools are physically close to each other (by Adirondack standards) but traffic time makes the time distance similar to the distance between rural villages. The point is that claim that the Balkanization of the school districts is necessary due to the distances is false. We may like to have tiny intimate school districts, but as Brian points out, it is very expensive.

    We also need to get away from some dead-end discussions. Abolishing public schools and going to a private model isnt going to happen ever. Blaming teachers and teachers unions is unproductive – it creates ill-will with no chance of leading to anything useful. Maybe you can browbeat teachers into sacrificing raises they are legally entitled to, but how many of us would voluntarily do that?

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  18. Right JDM: because private university is so much cheaper and more efficient… with costs rising at several times the rate of inflation.

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  19. This all sounds well and good but nothing can significantly change (at least positively) without significant mandate relief. It’s sounds all smart and forward-thinking to tell districts to work toward “fundamental change” that is “driven by community values,” but when the state is mandating everything from how long potty breaks are to how long #2 pencils have to be, how exactly can local districts achieve any of this?

    Consolidation is the only thing they can do and don’t forget that making longer and more bus runs costs money too. Some kids in these rural districts are on the bus for an hour or more. Are we prepared to make those rides even longer?

    Without significant policy change from Albany, districts are not legally in a position to do anything more than nibble around the edges. That is the reality.

    So my question to Brian M is this: what would be some examples of “fundamental change” that is “driven by community values” that districts could do? The only concrete example you cited was consolidation, which for better or worse makes it further away from communities.

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  20. mervel says:

    Peter is right.

    We need to drop the old dead end political ideological driven yelling matches, they are worthless and go nowhere and don’t solve what is essentially our local problems. This is not about some sort of private versus public school debate or unions versus non-union issue. Unions are not the reason we are in this jam and vouchers will NEVER work for us in that have almost ZERO private school options. We have two Catholic High schools one in watertown one in Plattsburgh, that is IT for private options. So we should dispense with worrying about that debate it is meaningless for us locally.

    We need to look at the issues Brian is talking about and assume that funding is essentially flat. Given those constraints what is sustainable for the future?

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  21. Paul says:

    “Paul do you think economic conditions in the North Country are getting much worse or are static? ”

    It varies somewhat but I think that you are right, it is what it is. At least over the 15 year period you have been there. Of course half of that time was after a huge national economic downturn.

    That is really my point. It “is what it is” is not a viable model. Costs are not going to just stop rising in this little corner of the world just for our sake. Either we grow or we die. In this case like Brain says we are slowly bleeding to death.

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  22. mervel says:

    But there is not going to be mandate relief and there is not going to be more money, that IS the reality Brain, so we have to live in the reality not in the dream. Certainly we should continue to lobby for change, but that could take years. We have kids in school NOW or at least I do. So I would like to look at real changes that we can make locally. For me it looks like consolidation of districts, which does not mean closing schools, it means getting rid of layers of administration and probably consolidating at the high school level physically, but not always.

    That would be the start. For example on Brains map, that should be ONE school district.

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  23. Paul says:

    “Consolidation is the only thing they can do and don’t forget that making longer and more bus runs costs money too. Some kids in these rural districts are on the bus for an hour or more. Are we prepared to make those rides even longer?”

    No, but those families are going to have to move closer to the school if they want their kids to get an education without a long bus ride. At one time we had little one room school houses all over since we didn’t want the kids to have to walk for miles.

    It is not that I don’t like some of these ideas. They are good short term fixes. But if they simply make us complacent and we don’t fix the larger underlying economic issues what is the point?

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  24. Peter Hahn says:

    Creating a more vibrant economy would obviously help most every problem we have, but thats always a goal.

    Cutting costs of educating children, without sacrificing quality is not an easy problem to solve. The first step is a clear-eyed non-ideological look at what is possible locally (per Mervel). This is a topic that local reporters bring up repeatedly, and something they need to keep doing. Lowering administrative over-head is an obvious place to look for savings and turf battles are the recognized impediments. We need to keep hammering away at this.

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  25. JDM says:

    Brian MOYC: “because private university is so much cheaper and more efficient… with costs rising at several times the rate of inflation.”

    You are right on both counts. They are by-and-large more efficient and pay higher wages.

    The rising tuition costs have more to do with government-subsidized loans than inefficiency. Get the government out of the way and it would much better. (same for Obamacare).

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  26. Pete Klein says:

    Fact of the matter is most of our schools would be happy if just the state aid cuts were restored. More would be appreciated but they would really like to see the cuts over the past few years restored.
    It does seem our elected representatives in the NYS Assembly and the Senate are totally useless and couldn’t care less about what is going on up here.
    Oh, I know, they care about guns but apparently don’t care about the education of our kids.

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  27. Peter Hahn says:

    JDM – “You are right on both counts. They are by-and-large more efficient and pay higher wages.” I think Brian was being sarcastic.

    The student teacher ratio in public universities is twice what it is in private universities, and the salaries lower. Public universities are much more efficient and (and consequently cheaper) than private ones.

    But we are talking about primary and secondary education.

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  28. Paul says:

    JDM, where do you think that most private universities get their funds. Some from tuition and more from overhead that comes from government funding.

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  29. JDM: If college costs would go down with your suggestion without sacrificing the quality and access, then it’s by definition INEFFICIENT.

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  30. BTW-One thing I’ve wondered over the years is… is it really that hard for people to spell the name Brian correctly? While I (and I assume Mr. Mann) like to think we’re moderately intelligent, we have brains but are not Brains.

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  31. Peter Hahn says:

    maybe automatic spell checker is taking over

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  32. Walker says:

    It’s interesting to think of the historical aspect here. Clarence Petty used to walk once a week from Corey’s fourteen miles to Saranac Lake, where he’d stay with relatives in the village for the week, and walk back home for the weekend. I think a lot of people made arrangements of that sort back then. People who don’t want their kids to have to do the long bus ride could do something similar today (minus the 28 miles a week on foot of course).

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  33. Jeff says:

    What is it that makes New York schools so expensive compared to Pennsylvania for instance (by almost $3000) even more than Maine? What is included in this state’s program or teacher wages and benefits that make it not quite double the cost of California schools, a place where a house is quadruple the price of a north country house?

    The NY state average per student is $15,900 and when my school district budget is $12500 per student, where is the extra $3400 per student going? California spends under $9000 per student so what extra is each student in my district getting or how does California do it for less?

    To its discredit, other information from the same webpage tells me , California ranks 43rd for results and New York ranks 19th but Pennsylvania is ahead of us at 8th so they are spending a lot less and getting better results, must be all that coal dust…..

    http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/acrossstates/Rankings.aspx?ind=5199

    Brian points out the need to decide what is sacrosanct and what is expendable. I spoke with an exchange student who remarked about the in-school programs for sports and other activities. The had none of that. Of course there is a social consequenced to a narrower education.

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  34. TomL says:

    I came from a school district in Indiana that was county-wide. Five high schools. 39 total schools. 240 square miles. 3000 employees. And one Superintendent, whose salary is not much more than that of the Superintendent of the (St. Lawrence County town district) school my kids currently attend.

    This town-sized district has one small grade – middle – and high school. Within a half-hour, there are at least 6 other single grade-middle-high school combos, each with its own Superintendent, 3 Principals, assorted Vice Administrators etc. Each with state or federally mandated resource people, etc. There is simply no reason I can see – other than tradition – to keep from creating a St. Lawrence County Unified School District. That wouldn’t mean consolidating all the schools, but certainly consolidating some – does Canton and Potsdam really need separate high schools? The current system of mini-districts really is completely unsustainable – I don’t believe there is any place in the US like this. Certainly nowhere I have lived.

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  35. Mervel says:

    I don’t think it’s sports, but everything is on the table. I think the mandated services do kill small schools. Some mandates say you must have this program in each district. Well the cost spread over 1200 kids is less than that same cost spread over 150 kids.

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  36. Mervel says:

    I totally agree Tom. However I think there are state rules preventing the creation of new districts! We can consolidate not create.

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  37. TomL says:

    Mervel, I guess it will eventually have to be Colton-Pierrepont-Edwards-Knox-Heuvelton-Canton-Potsdam-Norwood-Norfolk-Madrid-Waddington-Parishville-Hopkinton-Ogdensburg-Massena-Lisbon-Hammond Consolidated School District. Did I miss anyone? I look forward to the creative acronym made out of that!

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  38. Kathy says:

    And now we have the Common Core Initiative. The carrot for states adopting the program is “Race to the Top” grant money.

    It couldn’t have come at a worse time when school districts are suffering. While the funding is from the National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officials, and grants, it is still an unnecessary burden for districts to implement.

    It proves to me that the federal government is not in touch and should stay out. More and more, states are losing their power. The federal government is not forcing, but they are bribing.

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  39. Kathy says:

    The bottom line for me is there is waste and irrelevant agencies, associations, and boards – all getting a piece of the pie. No one wants to use the common sense of austerity when that is the only way whether you’re talking about a family, school district, or a government. The same measure must be used. But no. We’re too smart to use common sense.

    The love of money is the root of all evil.

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  40. erb says:

    The thought of communities somehow convening a heart-to-heart where everyone sits down and decides what our core values are is fanciful. And probably a bad idea. I am not sure how we choose what stays in the curriculum and what goes, but a popularity contest isn’t the way to decide.

    More realistically, that community involvement should be based on hard numbers. We need to dig deep into the costs of running our districts and say them out loud so everyone can think them over. The problems we’re having are economic, not aspirational.

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  41. Austerity, n.: when you identify the problem as lack of growth and you think the solution is to starve yourself.

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  42. Brian M: Bottom line is that the only way your noble concept could be achieved is if something I’ve called for repeatedly is implemented. The state and feds should pay 100% of the costs of the mandated programs. Districts should ONLY pay for optional programs that they choose of their own free will to offer, such as sports, extracurriculars and AP courses. This would truly create schools that represent the values of their communities. But we both know we are more likely to get un-gerrymandered districts that for Albany to do something this fair.

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  43. Mervel says:

    Paul the hard part is that good schools are a condition FOR economic development not always a result of development. When businesses and individuals consider a region they ask how are the schools? It will be very difficult to attract educated families here if we are saying our schools are financially and educationally broke. That is why we really need a sustainable path now forward.

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  44. Kathy says:

    Austerity, n.: when you identify the problem as lack of growth and you think the solution is to starve yourself.

    Lack of growth isn’t the problem. It is 16.5 trillion dollars in debt.

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  45. The US federal debt-to-income (GDP) ratio is about 100%. With mortgages, car loans, college loans and credit cards, the average US household’s debt-to-income ratio is higher… about 105%.

    I agree the federal debt (which is what you cite, given the figure) should be controlled better but since schools are funded primarily by state and local taxpayers, there is no relationship between the two… other than to advance an ideological agenda.

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  46. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Peter Hahn says:
    February 18, 2013 at 10:12 am

    “When I was a school bus driver in California my routes were at least two hours. – Those were elementary school kids and the bus was packed – 3 to a seat in every seat. The school bus I rode as a rural elementary school student was at least an hour.”

    Are you advocating 2-3 hour one way busing? There is allegedly a NYS law that says no student can spend more than an hour one way on a bus to get to school. Somehow the idea of getting your kids up at 4AM to get them washed and ready to get on the bus at 5AM and then welcoming them home that night when they get off the bus at 5:30-6:00PM seems to be an unsustainable idea.

    Peter Hahn says:
    February 18, 2013 at 11:40 am

    “The student teacher ratio in public universities is twice what it is in private universities, and the salaries lower. Public universities are much more efficient and (and consequently cheaper) than private ones.”

    Yeah, right Peter. That’s why a degree from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, etc. has the same value as a degree from SUNY Canton. I’m sure if we run a guy with a SUNY Canton degree or an ACC degree for President he’ll get the same treatment on his education as the guy with the Harvard degree.

    And I have to take issue with this statement you made Peter- ” Blaming teachers and teachers unions is unproductive – it creates ill-will with no chance of leading to anything useful. Maybe you can browbeat teachers into sacrificing raises they are legally entitled to, but how many of us would voluntarily do that?”

    Bargaining is a 2 way street. Simply giving a union whatever it wants is no more an answer than denying everything a union wants. It seems a good many teachers pay no part of their healthcare. Things like that are on the chopping block, or should be. I want teachers paid a fair wage that recognizes their education and abilities, but that doesn’t mean the sky is the limit. And that goes even moreso for the administrative end of things. Multiple levels of administration has not resulted in better educated students. It’s just cost a lot more. The tax payer is the bagholder here and I don’t believe any public employee should be protected from “blame”. That goes for any public employee across the board, in any job description.

    I don;t mean to pick on you, you just happened to make multiple posts today.

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  47. newt says:

    Brian (MOFYC) I seldom find myself in agreement with you, but your solution of having the mandators pay 100% of what they have mandated, and the locals pick up the rest, is both brilliant and fair, were it possible. I’d be happy with 50%.

    Maybe Brian Mann’s headline, “Are North Country School’s Bleeding Out?” might be a small step in the direction of getting our beloved governor and legislature to take notice and act in this direction.

    The notion of combining administrations to save more than pennies is a chimera, that in many cases would do more harm than good.

    As Mervel said, only a fool thinks you think you can get economic development and crappy, underfunded schools at the same time. Maybe once, not now.

    Hope you run this one in the ADE, Brian.

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  48. Peter Hahn says:

    come on inboxers – this is a local problem that needs a local solution. The cost per pupil for the tiny north country districts is much higher than cost per pupil in other parts of the state of New York. This has nothing to do with the federal debt, the federal department of education or the local teachers salaries. If anything they (local teachers salaries) are lower than other parts of the state.

    Especially you conservatives – this is local government – the kind you supposedly like. We arent going to abolish public schools here – there is the state constitution. We arent going to abolish teachers unions – again there is the state constitution. And – if such a constitutional amendment ever made it to a vote, it would lose in a landslide.

    The options are …. dropping sports, dropping all extra- curricular activities like school plays – making ever pupil purchase his/her own books – or reducing administrative costs – maybe a few more options. Otherwise we just pay really really high taxes.

    What are your realistic suggestions?

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  49. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Someone pointed out that an thriving economy would solve a lot of our issues and that it’s “always a goal”. Are you serious? Has anyone taken a good look at NY and tried to decide why anyone would do business here? The only state ranked worst to do business in than NY is California. We’ve reached the bottom and we’re looking for a shovel to dig deeper! If anyone wants to point fingers of blame then look directly to Albany. They are why we rank 49th. They are why we’re broke. They are why there will be no mandate relief. And yet the same clowns keep getting re-elected. We get exactly what we deserve.

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  50. Rancid Crabtree says:

    newt says:
    February 18, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    “Brian (MOFYC) I seldom find myself in agreement with you, but your solution of having the mandators pay 100% of what they have mandated, and the locals pick up the rest, is both brilliant and fair, were it possible. I’d be happy with 50%.”

    Newt, the problem is the same people are STILL footing the bill! It just means new tax increases to pay for it all. And truth be told, if the State and Feds took over paying their mandated costs, does anyone really think the school taxes would drop like a rock? I have a feeling the schools would look at the tax revenue and spend every last dime if given the chance.

    The more I think on it, the more it seems like another impossible mess with no good answers available.

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