MASSENA -- St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES district superintendents recently met with Senator Joe Griffo to share their concerns about the many challenges facing schools.
Superintendents Thomas Burns of St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES, Roger B. Clough II of Massena, Darin Saiff of Parishville-Hopkinton, Doug McQueer of Hammond, Pat Brady of Potsdam, and Dave Glover of Morristown gathered in the Central Administration Building at Massena Central Schools to discuss what local schools are facing in the upcoming 2013-14 school year and to voice their concerns about budget, state aid, the Hunger Kids Free Act, consolidation and unfunded mandates.
The superintendents voiced their concern over the unfunded mandates— more than 200 programs and procedures that districts must provide beyond federal requirements just in Special Education alone—without the state funding to pay for them.
Consequently, the costs are shifted to the local property taxpayer. Superintendent Burns suggested the state put a freeze on any unfunded mandates and assess how much they are actually costing the districts.
Senator Griffo agreed.
“As I’ve said, no more mandates - if you put on a mandate you need to put the funding to go with it,” he said.
This year, districts are under tremendous pressure to comply with the latest round of state and federal mandates. New federal learning standards known as Common Core and New York’s new teacher and principal evaluation system, the Annual Professional Performance Review have overwhelmed the districts.
Superintendent Burns also suggested more legal options for districts attempting to share services or achieve functional consolidation as an alternative to school mergers. Although mergers may stabilize districts’ immediate financial problems, he worries that they will not address the long-term sustainability issues facing schools, and are unpopular for many reasons in local communities.
Sen. Griffo said state finances are improving, but that the 18 component districts in St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES will face financial strains again next year.
“The state is still in a billion dollar deficit, but a few years ago it was $10 billion,” he said.
Griffo expects any increase in the state budget will be in education. He assured the superintendents that he will do his best to reduce the gap elimination reduction and get more money to area school districts.
Another topic was the wide gap between what courses districts can offer their students. Students in many districts do not have access to important courses that will help further their education such as AP, IB and technology classes. This education gap needs to be closed so that all students have similar chances for success.
A final discussion centered on the hotly debated Hunger Kids Free Act instituted last September. The program has proven to be expensive and kids are not happy. Superintendents like the idea of their students getting a more nutritious meal, but in reality, the kids are throwing much of the food in the trash. Fewer students are buying school lunches and the schools are losing money.
“We could be losing close to $100,000,” said Superintendent Brady.
Superintendent Burns’ addressed the biggest problem facing districts—that the foundation aid and gap elimination unfairly penalizes the poorer districts. Senator Griffo acknowledged the many concerns with a pledge to address them in Albany. He encouraged all superintendents to keep him updated on any concerns and to seek out their other state legislators and the governor as well.
“I would like to thank the Senator for coming to Massena Central Schools and spending the time to meet with area superintendents so that we could voice our concerns and also to give him an idea of where we are, educationally, in each of our districts,” said Superintendent Roger B. Clough II.