St. Lawrence County reps take differing views of new budget's school aid
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 5:39 pm

Senators Patricia Ritchie and Joseph Griffo say the state budget includes a big boost for St. Lawrence County Schools, but Assemblywoman Russell says the state needs a new formula for distributing aid.

The budget passed late Monday night includes a $1.1 billion increase in education aid with a $10.1 million increase in aid for St. Lawrence County Schools. Details on the budget can be found in our earlier story

“I believe our children deserve equal access to a quality education, regardless of where they live, what their parents earn or how much their home is worth,” said Griffo who represents portions of St. Lawrence County including Massena and Potsdam. “My hope is that this increase will help schools in my district retain programs that are vital to the creation of a well-rounded student.”

Griffo said he heard from many school officials, parents and students that completely restoring the $2.8 billion taken during the Gap Elimination Adjustment was their top priority. This year’s budget restores an additional $550 million to schools. St. Lawrence County schools will see a $5.1 million restoration to the GEA.

Sen. Ritchie, who represents the City of Ogdensburg and several towns in St. Lawrence County including Morristown, Lisbon, Canton and Louisville, said the aid increase represents the largest hike in five years and nearly three times the increase proposed in January by the Governor for North Country and Central New York schools.

“Students, teachers and taxpayers depend on the state for aid to maintain the high quality of public education and to help hold the line on our school property taxes,” Ritchie said.

“This added investment means better schools for our students and relief for taxpayers," Senator Ritchie said.

She said changes to the original budget proposal were designed to drive more aid to rural and high-needs schools, including Senator Ritchie’s priority of restoring funds from the aid-cutting “Gap Elimination Adjustment.”

“The GEA was a budget gimmick enacted before I took office, that unfairly decreases state aid to rural and high-needs schools,” Senator Ritchie said. “It’s been my priority to eliminate the GEA, and I will continue to work toward that goal.”

Assemblywoman Russell, who represents a large portion of St. Lawrence County including Ogdensburg an Massena, said she was pleased to see a boost in aid, but criticized an antiquated aid distribution formula.

“North Country schools have gone to heroic lengths to provide a solid education to our kids in the face of years of budget cuts,” she said. “This year’s budget increases overall state aid but unfortunately the funding formula does not address the specific needs of several area school districts. I have been working with many superintendents throughout the budget process and after further discussions with them this morning I am resolved to continue to fight for more direct aid to our region so our children can get the education they deserve.”