By JIMMY LAWTON
A lack of resources, grant writers and time has kept St. Lawrence County School Districts from seeking $500,000 grants that would allow schools to become “community centers” that provide social services to students in need.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the “Community Schools” program, as a way to help high-needs schools overcome “challenges faced by impoverished communities.” He said the program is designed to address the needs of distressed areas and serve low-income students and families.
Across the state, 30 schools will receive funding for services that include academic enhancement, family engagement, health promotion and healthcare, nutrition, counseling, legal and parenting skills.
In St. Lawrence County every school district except Colton-Pierrepont and Potsdam are categorized by the state as “high-needs” districts.
And while the program sounds like a good fit for many St. Lawrence County schools, most are unable to seek the funding due to a lack of resources that already exists within the rural districts and communities.
At Norwood-Norfolk Central School, superintendent Jamie Cruickshank said the staffing and time aren’t available to pursue the grant.
“NNCS is in the same situation as most rural districts, in that we don't have the resources to put together these large grant applications. I would like to invest the time, but we simply don't have enough man hours available,” he said. “This type of grant will undoubtedly be gobbled up by larger suburban schools or large city districts who have grant writers on their staff.”
Similar comments came from Madrid-Waddington Central School, where a lack or time and staff precluded the school from seeking the state funding.
"The program or grant sounds wonderful, but due to limited personnel and other state initiatives that are consuming a great deal of our time, MWCS is unable to complete an application or letter of intent in the required time period. It is my understanding that a number of schools in the county are in the same situation," MWCS Superintendent Lynn Roy said in an emailed response.
“ The letter of intent is due Sept. 6, the first week of school and then the completed application is due by Sept. 18. With APPR, Common core Standards and Data Driven Instruction implementation, it is impossible for us to submit a viable and well coordinated application”
St. Lawrence-Lewis County BOCES Superintendent Thomas Burns said BOCES, which serves 18 school districts, is often able to apply for grants on behalf of the districts it serves, but this particular grant excluded that option.
"Even though it wasn't explicitly stated in the grant. It sort of has an urban feel to it and that is fine. Urban schools and districts have their challenges," he said. "But we need to keep advocating for rural areas which are very often at a disadvantage when it comes to grants, because of a lack of resources," he said.
Burns said many schools in St. Lawrence County had little chance of making the Sept. 18 deadline.
"The timing is difficult. All the schools are full speed ahead with the start of the school year," he said.
The story was similar at Ogdensburg Free Academy, where superintendent Timothy Vernsey is wrestling with a capital project. He said construction projects; new school year and variety of new initiatives were keeping the district too busy to consider the grant.
Burns said the problem isn’t new for rural districts, which have historically struggled for equity in state funding.
“Most of our school just don’t have the support staff needed to go after these grants,” he said.
Burns said this grant may be out of reach for St. Lawrence County schools, but his staff is currently working on some grants for a consortium of local schools.