Assemblywoman Russell says upstate senators taking wrong approach to getting more aid to poorer schools
Saturday, February 23, 2013 - 5:08 pm

North Country Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D-Theresa) said a letter circulated Friday by upstate senators is “right to be focusing on the problems in our education system as a result of the gap elimination adjustment.”

But Russell says that asking the governor to create more equitable funding for public schools rather than asking their Senate leadership to take on the issue gives her pause.

Eighteen senators, including the three representing St. Lawrence County, signed a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo dated Feb. 8 asking the governor to adjust “gap elimination” restorations to better help less well off upstate school districts.

“I think they are right to be focusing on the problems in our education system as a result of the gap elimination adjustment,” Russell said.

“But I think the strategy might be more beneficial if North Country representatives take a different approach so we can get some results this budget season.

“We would have to work with senators from other parts of the state. This is antagonistic to others in the school aid fight,” she said.

Many upstate school districts say in spite of deepening cuts to personnel and programs in an effort to keep property taxes from going up, the aid they will be getting will not be enough to prevent more cuts, weakening their programs further.

In the North Country, many school superintendents have said they believe their school districts will be educationally or financially bankrupt, or both, in the next two years.

And many poorer districts look at wealthier districts, such as those in well off suburbs, that continue to get aid at levels that are keeping their programs and staffs intact.

“I’ve been building relationships over the past several years with Assembly members from the Southern Tier, New York City, the Hudson Valley, Long Island,” that could lead to a “much more productive take” on the aid question.

“My legislation to reform school funding is built on the idea that we can all get together” on the issue.

Russell says she has to wonder why the senators are “directing this at Gov. Cuomo rather than at the leadership of the state Senate.”

She suggested that wealthy districts represented by Republican senators might be more likely to be persuaded if their leaders in the Senate could be brought to bear on the issue.

“Instead of forcing the Republican leadership to funnel aid from wealthy suburban districts, they’re calling on the governor for help. I think that’s interesting.”

Russell represents the 116th “River” District, which includes Ogdensburg and all the townships in St. Lawrence County along the St. Lawrence River plus Canton, Potsdam, Rossie, Macomb and DePeyster, plus northern Jefferson County, not including Watertown.