Gov. Cuomo urges school districts to save money during visit to Potsdam
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 6:32 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking with reporters in Potsdam Tuesday.

By CRAIG FREILICH

POTSDAM – Anyone hoping to hear New York’s governor say during his visit to Potsdam Tuesday he was taking up the cause of more equitable funding for public schools was left wanting.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke at Clarkson University on the state-of-the-state and budget speeches he delivered in Albany last month, part of a post-speech campaign by him and aides to push his messages at regional presentations around New York.

Cuomo said the state-of-the-state message was the "vision for the year," and the subsequent budget message laid out the "the details, the road map" before the responsibility for crafting a budget goes to the state Assembly and Senate.

Many people wanted to hear that the governor was reworking the school aid formula to send more help to less prosperous school districts, such as many in the North Country, so they can cope better with rising costs and not have to lay off any more staff or cut any more programs. A movement has grown around the issue in the North Country, particularly since a report by the state Council of School Superintendents released in November of an online survey of its members on school fiscal matters.

By a wide margin, school superintendents in the North Country region -- St. Lawrence, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis, Hamilton, Essex, and Clinton counties -- were most likely to foresee the possibility of financial insolvency and educational bankruptcy in their district’s near-term future, the report said.

Local school officials and parents had hoped that information like that might prompt state government to find a way to help poorer districts that have already made significant cutbacks in the last couple of years avoid having to make more. One approach seen as reasonable here in the North Country – to reduce the amount of school aid that well-off suburban school districts would receive and redistribute it to districts in rougher straits -- probably would not be greeted with enthusiasm in those school districts. But the hope was that something could be done to persuade lawmakers to stem the evisceration of school staff and programs here, even if it came at the expense of other districts that wouldn’t suffer much with a little less.

In Potsdam he reiterated his plan for the state paying for schools that adopt longer school days and school years; extending pre-kindergarten programs; and helping even out the shock of pension cost increases. He also said his administration would support school consolidation where it is practical.

At a session with reporters after the speech, Cuomo suggested there was some chance state lawmakers could make changes.

“The education numbers will probably be different at he end of the day.

“I do encourage school districts to save money,” he said.

Cuomo was asked about the relative merits of the old “Rooftop Highway” plan for a major road between Watertown and Plattsburgh, most recently put forward in the incarnation of an “Interstate 98” proposal, as opposed to an alternate plan of making less expensive improvements to U.S. Route 11.

The governor said he noted “a common theme to all these questions: money.”

“There have been economic pressures all across the board. Governments are having to tighten their belts and live within their means because we don’t have the option to raise taxes.”

He said it was a case of “economic realism.”