Canton, Potsdam parents mobilizing to fight state school budget cuts
Monday, February 20, 2012 - 11:29 am

Faced with another year of massive school staffing and program cuts, parents from Canton and Potsdam are mobilizing to lobby state lawmakers.

A reported 200 people met last week in Canton to plan their campaign to fight state budget cuts they say could damage the future of their communities. Dozens of teaching positions and an assortment of programs are on the block in Canton and Potsdam as work on budget proposals continues.

“While Canton and Potsdam Central Schools are experiencing the worst cuts per student from the state, many of our local schools are facing huge class sizes and loss of programs. This affects our whole community,” said Potsdam PTSA Vice-President Rachel Heath Wallace in a Letter to the Editor of North Country This Week.

Another meeting is set for Wednesday, Feb. 22 to advance their plans and to learn how to deal with legislators as they prepare a bus trip to Albany Feb. 29 in pursuit of equitable treatment for North Country schools.

Meanwhile, Potsdam parents have taken out a full-page ad in North Country This Week and a homepage banner ad on protesting “inequitable funding practices utilized by the state of New York.”

Parents in Canton have put up a web site with a petition asking state officials to “consider reallocating the $250 million set aside for performance grants to districts with the greatest need like the Canton Central School District.”

Volunteer parents in Canton are working to find famous people to join the cause, make telephone calls to drum up support, and organizing the Albany rally as well as a presence at a legislators’ meeting in Canton March 10.

And Chad Radock from the Alliance for Quality Education will instruct parents on what to do and what not to do when working with elected representatives on advocacy efforts in Albany, at the next School Equity Advocacy meeting 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Canton high school auditorium.

The meeting will also include an update on community actions and next steps. All interested community members are welcome.

In Canton, volunteers have taken on a number of assignments.

Jim Shuman will head up work with students, faculty and staff at St. Lawrence University. Kimberly Busch and Rebecca Del Rossi will work on the “famous-people connection,” to find endorsements from well known people with local connections, such as opera star Renée Fleming and film actor Viggo Mortensen.

Viola Schmid-Doyle will organize the Albany bus trip for people in the Canton area, while Mike Zagrobelny will coordinate for the whole county. Cindy Ford is organizing a presence at the March 10 St. Lawrence County School Boards’ Legislative Breakfast at SUNY Canton. Attorney Andrew Moses will explore legal options.

Liz Gallup and Rhonda Curtis are organizing petitions, community outreach, education and the website Suzanna Sudborough is organizing production of a video.

Canton’s Carli Baldwin will be working with students on a Facebook page for “Equity in Sate Aid for Schools,” to get media attention on the matter, make T-shirts for the Albany trip, and to connect with a range of people who can be of help.

Everyone has been urged to write letters, call legislators, forward emails and recruit more help.

At last count, 75 people from the Canton, Potsdam, Hermon-DeKalb, Madrid-Waddington and Ogdensburg school districts had signed up for the lobbying trip to Albany.

Meanwhile the organizers are planning a “large community presence with signs, etc. to send a message to legislators” at the March 10 breakfast at SUNY Canton.

The Canton High School Parent Group has created to encourage parents to lobby legislators in Albany through site. The site is aimed at keeping residents informed of budget issues and organizing them into an action group to work with state legislators, and by signing a petition, among other actions.

The Potsdam PTSA  ad is urging people to travel to Albany in support of students who will be at the state Capitol speaking against state aid cuts. They say the state aid cuts for rural, North Country schools are out of proportion when compared with aid cuts to wealthier downstate districts.

“Our schools do not have the same educational resources or opportunities as wealthier downstate districts, which leaves our students at a distinct disadvantage,” said Potsdam PTSA’s Rachel Heath Wallace. “This is in large part due to inequitable funding practices utilized by the state of New York,” she said.

The Potsdam parents are advocating that people make telephone calls to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to explain the situation.

As the budget picture appears now, as many as 44 jobs would be cut from Canton schools to accommodate increasing expenses and what is viewed as inadequate support from the state.

Potsdam schools are also facing tough choices on staffing and programs as they too face another year of increasing costs and diminishing support from Albany. It could lead to an average of 33 students per classroom in Potsdam’s A.A. Kingston Middle School, among other detrimental changes, according to the Potsdam parents’ group.

The Canton web site will soon provide information about budget issues facing Canton Central, according to an e-mail sent to parents. The site is designed to help launch a letter-writing campaign to state representatives; share sample letters and information that can be used in personalizing letters; link to a Facebook page for public comments; and link to an online petition that parents hope will attract parents to sign in support of the school’s efforts to get legislators’ help in avoiding cuts to personnel and programs.

The group is placing paper petitions at area businesses to collect signatures from community members as