More money for North Country schools not enough

Potsdam Central School. NCPR file photo

It’s a tough time for schools, budget-wise. We’ve been covering this story extensively for some time now, but one recent story by Julie Grant lays out the problem as it currently stands: In that story, Hermon-DeKalb Central School superintendent Ann Adams says, although local schools did better than expected in this year’s budget, the district has “nothing left to cut,” and that it’s close to the point of going broke.

Another story from that same day, April 2, has incoming Saranac Lake Central school superintendent telling reporter Chris Knight that the main problem she’s facing in her new position is, well, money. That district is looking at a budget gap of more than $1 million.

We’ve seen this story repeated again and again throughout our region (and we can be sure it’s not just a North Country problem.) North Country Now is reporting this week that local school superintendents (the article quotes superintendents from Potsdam and Norwood-Norfolk)  are saying that while that state aid increase might save some jobs this year, rural districts won’t survive if there’s not some serious change.

What kind of change are they suggesting, you ask? Well, mandate relief, not suprisingly, and an adjustment in the state school aid formula, which many feel benefits wealthier districts at the expense of poorer ones.

They’re also looking to eliminate something called the “Gap Elimination Adjustment,” (GEA) which (follow me here) divides a portion of the state’s funding shortfall among all school districts in the state, and subtracts that amount from state aid (somewhat wonkier details in the article.) The GEA, has been reduced somewhat in the latest budget.

Missing from this article is another big topic in rural education, and one that’s come up lately here in the North Country: consolidation. This may be because the article’s actually about preserving school districts, but consolidation looks to be emerging as a more and more important issue as time goes on (actually, 18 St. Lawrence County school districts participated in a consolidation study two years ago that recommended the creation of regional high schools, among other things.) Some school districts have considered taking steps toward consolidation, as Ogdensburg did last month, and several Tri-Lakes schools did last year.




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27 Comments on “More money for North Country schools not enough”

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  1. EVH says:

    Say you’re a district like General Brown with a 1.8 million dollar budget gap this upcoming year alone. Who, exactly, would want to merge with you? Lyme Central? Watertown High? IHC? Indian River? Consolidation could work for some districts, but it’s a very complicated undertaking that isn’t as easy as it may sound.

  2. EVH: don’t bother with such trivialities as details and facts. Emperor Andrew merely likes blustery rhetoric.

  3. JDM says:

    What kind of change are they suggesting, you ask?


    It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    When you talk consolidation in rural areas including the Adirondacks, you are talking long distance rides on buses.
    Maybe those who insist on continuing talk about consolidation real want to kick everyone out of rural areas. If that, then what?
    Consolidation is not an intelligent idea if kids have to be on a bus half the school day.
    Vouchers? Vouchers to where?

  5. JDM says:

    Vouchers to where?

    I am pro-choice when it comes to education.

    Vouchers to 1)public school 2)private school 3)parochial school 4)homeschool 5)charter school 6)new fangled school 7)school-of-the-over-achievers

    you name it.

    Competition is a good thing. Better education. Lower cost.

  6. Mervel says:

    In general; in concept, in theory I would agree JDM.

    But the lived reality does not always fit theory. In reality there would be no choices available in our counties for education vouchers to be used. There are no private schools in the north country with the exception of tiny Catholic schools. Catholics schools would be of some benefit, but even here there are not enough of them or enough spaces; they do not provide a real choice.

    I think Vouchers can work in cities with a broad range of private options, but not here with no private options.

  7. Mervel says:

    There are two private high schools in the entire north country (SLC, Jefferson, Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Herkimer), one in Watertown one in plattsburgh. So the idea that giving a parent a voucher in Ogdensburg or Canton or Tupper Lake and thinking that will have any impact does not make any sense.

  8. JDM says:

    mervel :”In reality there would be no choices available in our counties for education vouchers to be used.”

    What a strange juxtaposition of verb and object.

    There are no choices precisely because there are no vouchers.

    There would be choices with vouchers.

    How much Obamacare would there be without funding?

    Give us vouchers and supply will exceed demand, and the weak links will become apparent.

  9. JDM says:

    Oh, I’m sorry.

    Rhetorical questions can confuse low information voters.

    How much Obamacare would there be without funding?

    Answer: None

  10. One has to wonder with all the many districts there’s never a shortage of buses going everywhere for this sporting event on a artificial field that everyone seems to have. Odd most of my life Ive heard “It won’t cost the district a dime, the Feds are paying for it, or the state, or whoever, the crows are now coming home to roost, so we’ll soon know the co$t of an education………And now I read JCC wants to spend 50 million on various new buildings…….

  11. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Consolidation doesn’t necessarily mean long bus rides. You can consolidate a district, and eliminate a lot of administrative overlap, and still keep schools that are open now open, just in one district instead of two.

    I know it’s tough for school districts right now, but it’s tough for taxpayers too. You shift more costs to the state, or raise state aid, and its just going to be coming out of the income and sales taxes we all pay. I don’t want to see cuts in education, but how much more money can you afford to pay to fund the continual yearly expansion of school budgets?

    JDM, I’m not necessarily opposed to vouchers, but I agree with Mervel that it wouldn’t make a difference in the North Country. Opening a private school is a costly undertaking, and you need enough students to make one work. I don’t think vouchers would lead to enough people looking for a private school option to actually spur someone to open one, in an area where the pool of potential students is so thin and so spread out. Especially when you consider that the local population centers that could maybe provide enough kids — Lake Placid, Saranac Lake — have pretty good public schools.

  12. mervel says:

    No JDM your just wrong, the economics do not support some sort of increased school building spree based on vouchers. So lets say next year you give vouchers, what is supposed to happen? Would the schools magically appear? Now if you are saying that vouchers are a massive increase in spending for schools then maybe, but if you are talking spending what we spend now, no there will be no new schools built up here for any sort of choice of anything.

  13. mervel says:

    Marlo is correct there just would be no true choice, vouchers would not be relevant.

    In general I think regional consolidation of multiple districts into one district is the answer. But now I understand that even THAT is against state mandates. Given that answer I say go fiscally broke and force the states hand.

  14. JDM says:

    So lets say next year you give vouchers, what is supposed to happen?

    Year 1 – probably 90% would go right back to the public school system

    Years 1 – 3 Alternative schools already in existence would increase gradually increase in enrollment, especially those with decent teachers, reasonable price structure, and good academic success as measured by any testing metric, college placement, or other measeure.

    Years 1 – 10 The most successful schools gain enrollment. More alternatives appear. Parents find abundant choices available in type of school, setting, cost, scheduling, peer focus, academic focus, achievement levels.

    Year 5 – 20 The north country becomes known for academic excellence. Teachers earn more because pay is merit-based rather than level-based. Taxes are greatly lower because of market forces. The best schools with the best cost and best teachers become the norm.

  15. david says:

    I agree with JDM. NY needs more Charter and alternative schools (i.e. Montessori schools, Art schools and other non-traditional type). Other states that have successful Charter schools start with abandoned school buildings and other existing buildings. The current models are a failure and the communities do no/cannot support them.

  16. JDM says:

    So lets say next year you *don’t* give vouchers, what is supposed to happen?

    Year 1 – taxes go up and services are cut.

    Years 3 – 5 taxes continue to go up and schools close.

    Year 5 – 10 taxes continue to go up. students will be bused farther distance as schools close. North country will lose residents to areas that allow school vouchers.

  17. Paul says:

    Aren’t there several private schools in Lake Placid? I am sure that they are too expensive for most but it isn’t like none exist like some are saying here.

    “Maybe those who insist on continuing talk about consolidation real want to kick everyone out of rural areas.”

    Pete isn’t this exactly what is prescribed by the current state zoning rules in the Adirondacks? They are set up to encourage folks to develop in the already developed areas (they are pretty rural also but that is the idea).

    Some of these more remote towns are going away and the folks will have to deal with consolidation one way or another. I would guess that people with kids in a place like St. Regis Falls will eventually have to bus or move themselves closer to Saranac Lake (where the parents probably work already anyway).

  18. EVH says:

    We have a substantially large population of students with special needs in the North Country. Which partly explains our precarious financial situation given the costs for services required for these students. Costs by the way, born directly by individual districts as well as BOCES districts and the State Education department.

    What, exactly, will we do with these students when all these supposed new charter and private schools refuse them entrance? Unlike public schools, private and charter institutions can legally do so. Which partly explains their supposed improvement in educational outcomes. That is to say, special education students are not always included with their cohort group when evaluating test scores and other outcomes by charter schools. It’s the dirty little secret in the education world that you’ll rarely hear voucher advocates admit or explain.

  19. JDM says:


    It’s easy to create a false hypothetical and then wash your hands of the whole idea.

    Here’s a more realistic scenario.

    Find the need, fill the need.

    If children with special needs aren’t finding their needs getting met, someone will come up with a way to meet their needs.

    Is that so difficult to envision?

  20. Zeke says:

    After Healthcare costs and pension costs I believe the number one budget problem for schools has been the introduction of privatizing of testing. JDM’s proposal seems to ignore, for private schools, some of the very things that drive up the cost of public schools.

  21. Mervel says:

    I think there might be a couple of these fancy boarding schools located up here around Lake Placid? But there are any of those in SLC, Franklin, Jefferson etc.

    JDM here is what would happen.

    Year 1-20: Some Catholic families use their vouchers (probably a couple of hundred AT MOST for the whole region). The rest go to the only other option-public schools, only they will have even less funding than they do now so it will be worse outcomes. I would like to send my children to a Catholic school if there was a Catholic High school located within 50 miles I would use my voucher to go; but there is not any located near me. In fact after serving on local Catholic School boards etc the funding necessary to create a new High School is far beyond anything any of these small town up here could afford. You need a 25-100 million dollar capital campaign to really kick that off.

    The bottom line is that in poverty filled areas these voucher ideas don’t work there is not the choice available. I do think these plans have some merit in urban areas that already include a viable private infrastructure. We just don’t have the numbers to support private options.

  22. Mervel says:

    If we want to listen to only the Market, the market is sending all of us a message, move. So if we heed he market we won’t have any schools at all up here. Thank God for public education and public health care and not for profits who provide many many things in the North Country. I am saying that as someone who supports free enterprise who supports opening up the North Country to more investment and resource extraction; but even after all of that, without public investment most families could not stay here.

  23. Paul says:

    One of the most important things that people look at when they want to make a move (probably second to a job) is schools. These conversations we have had about how great the quality of life is in places like the NC seems to be totally contradicted by these other conversations about how bad it is. The bottom line is that folks will move to where they can “be successful” as the primary reason (schools are key to success of the kids you are raising). A secondary reasons are things like a nice town or fun stuff to do when you are not working.

    Mervel, yes the market, but not only the market (and all these other factors as well) is telling people up there to move. One option is to move closer together. The spread out rural thing was good for an agricultural based economy but that is going away.

  24. Walker says:

    “I would guess that people with kids in a place like St. Regis Falls will eventually have to bus or move themselves closer to Saranac Lake (where the parents probably work already anyway).”

    Paul, for the record, St. Regis Falls is 20 miles from Malone, 23 miles from Potsdam, and 38 miles from Saranac Lake. Not real likely they’d be coming here. Not that it changes the discussion.

    And JDM’s golden vision of market forces (Find the need, fill the need) sounds great, but it doesn’t always work, particularly at a given price. And it’s not just the special needs students that private schools tend to dump, it’s behavior problems and poor academic performance too.

  25. Paul says:

    Good point. It does seem like lots of the folks that live there head to places like Saranac Lake or Lake Placid to work. At least that seems like the traffic flow when I am in that area the right times of the day. I think that the superintendent of the St. Regis Falls School District lives in Saranac Lake. Not positive.

  26. david says:

    The region has not been friendly to families and especially families with children. As a narcissist generation increasingly ages, and with less children around it doesn’t make sense to keep schools funded in traditional modes. Whenever you see pictures/stories of public festivities in this area, it’s almost laughable to see a bunch of overgrown adolescent’s making fools of themselves, having a time. Where’s the children?

  27. Mervel says:

    Its a combination of families with children leaving, no new families with children moving to the area and couples who are here having less children overall. We should not be looking at how public school was in the North Country 30 years ago as a model for funding today. I would agree with you on that.

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