Over one-dozen Canton business leaders 'implore' Gov. Cuomo to help Canton schools to survive
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 5:39 pm

CANTON – More than a dozen Canton business leaders have written to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “implore” him to help Canton schools survive.

Referring to the announcement last week of a package of more than $90 million in aid to the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, the letter noted it would be “a powerful boost to the North Country,” but that it “must be accompanied by much-needed support for our schools so we can educate our children to live and work here and continue to attract others to make the North Country their home.”

On Canton Chamber of Commerce letterhead, 18 chamber members pleaded with the governor to find a way to restore adequate funding to Canton Central School, without which the educational mission of the school – and of the state – is in jeopardy.

“Canton faces educational and fiscal insolvency if New York State does not address issues of equity and fairness that now guide school funding,” the letter said, suggesting that reclassifying Canton Central from an “average needs” district to a “high needs, district” in light of the current poverty rate of 23 percent, might help fill the current budget gap of $2 million when the next state budget is put in place.

The letter notes that over the last three years, state aid to Canton has dropped by $4,769 per pupil, leaving the district at a funding level that makes it impossible to sustain a viable educational program for Canton students.

In the last two years, the district has cut more than 40 positions and nearly as many classes in an effort to balance its budget.

In a presentation to the Board of Education in November, Superintendent William Gregory noted that “Over the last two years, Canton has endured per-student cuts larger than those of 95% of the state’s 680 school districts. Unlike our wealthier counterparts, we lack the capacity to absorb these cuts.”

Meanwhile, he Gregory said, the “known” increases in expenses the district will be responsible for in the 2013-2014 school year amount to $1,247,900 of which the lion’s share, $845,700, is for increases in the cost of retirement and health insurance obligations.

Without a substantial aid increase, Gregory said, the school would be much farther down a path of decline that would ill-serve the students, the community and the state.

In their letter to the governor, the chamber members said, “We urge you to invest on our schools – to fund Canton schools fairly so the drastic measures that are being forecast don’t lead to long-term decline.”

Their complete letter follows:

Dear Governor Cuomo:

As Canton business leaders and members of the Board of Directors of the Canton Chamber of Commerce, we are writing to implore you to listen to what our local legislators, school administrators, teachers, parents and students are saying: Please take the steps necessary to ensure equitable education funding for all New York State students.

Just this week you announced exciting economic development support that will be a powerful boost to the North Country. While this is wonderful news for our region, it

Canton Central School currently faces a budget gap of over 2 million dollars, making it virtually impossible to provide a sound basic education to our students as guaranteed by the New York State Constitution. According to the current funding program, although the district has 50 percent of the resources of the average school in the state, Canton is categorized as an “average needs” district and has therefore has sustained more extreme cuts than similarly challenged districts. Over the past three years. Canton has experienced a decrease of $4769 per pupil, one of the highest per-pupil district decreases in the state. The result: Canton faces educational and fiscal insolvency if New York State does not address issues of equity and fairness that now guide school funding.

We believe New York State must meet its obligation to provide a sound, basic education by adjusting the school funding formula so that funding – and cuts – are administered equitably and fairly. We urge you to ensure fair funding for districts like Canton, for example, by reclassifying Canton as a high-needs district based on current data that shows a poverty rate of 23 percent, rather than the 12-year-old data that suggests our poverty rate is half that. Ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) would likewise be a step toward more equitable funding for schools across the state.

The state has invested generously in North Country business and economic development. Education is more than a business investment, it is an investment in the future. It will ultimately pay dividends that benefit our community, state, and society as a whole. We urge you to invest on our schools – to fund Canton schools fairly so the drastic measures that are being forecast don’t lead to long-term decline.

Your efforts to ensure equitable education funding in the state of New York will be appreciated by all your Canton constituents.

Ben Dixon, St. Lawrence University

Kathy Flanagan

Edith Frazer, Frazer Computing

John J. Gray, Jr., Gray & Gray, CPA

Phyllis Howard, North Country Savings Bank

Brooke James, 24 E. Main St. Bed and Breakfast

Andrew Knowles, NBT Bank

Cindy Lawrence, Partridge Knoll/United Helpers

Paul Mitchell, St. Lawrence Plaindealer

Elizabeth Pier, Passages Through Time

Carol Pynchon, TAUNY

Randy Sieminski, SUNY Canton

Terri Simzer, Canton-Potsdam Hospital

Mike Snow, White’s Flowers

Carol Spaddaccini, Coakley’s Carpet One

Dori Warren, Community Bank

Jessica Zuhlsdorf, SEACOMM Federal Credit Union, Canton

Sally Hill, Executive Director