By CRAIG FREILICH
CANTON – The Canton school board president says she is encouraged by some of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his “state of the state” message in Albany today.
But Barbara Beekman said she will wait for the governor’s budget message in a week or two for signs that the help that North Country schools need from the state might actually be on the way.
“He certainly is acting like he thinks it’s the state’s responsibility” to make sure public schools in the state can do the job of educating young people, and “he stressed education’s importance to economic development,” but it remains to be seen “whether the rubber will meet the road or not.”
In the face of diminishing aid for schools in the North Country and elsewhere around the state in successive state budgets, Canton parents and administrators have led a charge to fix what they say is a flawed state aid formula, in the face of fear that many districts will not have the resources to pay their bills or be able to adequately teach students what they need to learn.
At a meeting in Canton last week, several local state legislators spoke about some of these issues, noting that any hope of getting school aid shifted from districts that are better off to schools that have had to make serious cuts over the last several years is in this year’s state budget process.
But in today’s speech, the governor “didn’t say anything one way or the other to change funding,” Beekman said.
She said that Cuomo’s endorsement of what he called “real pre-K for all our children” starting in the lowest wealth areas did not bode well for school funding.
“I took that to mean he didn’t commit to paying for it in every district,” Beekman said.
And as far as his adoption of his education commission’s recent recommendation that New York schools move to longer days and longer school years, Beekman said it appeared that “we’re going in two different directions.
“I’m not saying it’s a bad idea,” she said, but she indicated that with fewer offerings due to cuts, such as quality electives, there would be less to fill a longer calendar.
“It’s reassuring he has articulated the importance of education as well as the state’s constitutional responsibility for it, but we always seem to get to this point, and end up waiting to see what will really change.
“But the budget is where the rubber does meet the road and any change to the formula will show up in the budget, so I’m not surprised he didn’t get specific” in his speech, Beekman said.
If he did, he would “alert the people on the other side of this,” the lawmakers who represent the better-off districts who would stand to lose if the formula is revised in the North Country’s favor.
So Beekman said she will wait for the day the budget plan is released.
“The budget generates the first school aid runs, the first concrete numbers for each district. That’s ‘reality day.’”