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Parents at Canton meeting receive lobbying tips

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CANTON - When parents and students head to Albany next week they should give state lawmakers specific examples of how state funding cuts have already hurt their schools and what’s at stake next year.

Chad M. Radock, deputy campaign manager for Alliance for Quality Education, Albany, offered that advice Wednesday night to about 100 people who gathered in the Canton High School gymnasium. Most were residents of Canton and Potsdam central school districts.

“You have to make sure they understand they are effecting lives,” Mr. Radock said. “Don’t be afraid to take a stand. This is your kids’ future.”

Raising their hands, several parents responded that their children have been impacted by the loss of teachers, librarians, nurses and teacher aides at their schools.

The outlook for next year looks even bleaker unless the state Legislature agrees to revise Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed state budget by earmarking more money to struggling school districts.

Advanced classes, electives, sports, music and other programs may be on the chopping block at many north country schools including Canton and Potsdam, which stand to lose the most funding next year.

A grassroots group of parents, students and teachers is pushing legislators to distribute $250 million to the neediest school districts. The governor wants to make districts across the state compete for that pool of funding by applying for performance and efficiency grants.

That situation unfairly pits school districts against each other and favors wealthy school districts that have grant writers on staff who can apply for the funding, Mr. Radock said.

“We just think it sets up a system of winners and losers,” he said.

Lawmakers should also be pushed to generate more state revenue that could be earmarked for education. The $805 million increase for public education in next year’s proposed budget compares to $2.7 billion that was cut over the past two years.

Closing corporate tax loopholes is one way to generate revenue, Mr. Radock said.

“We need to ask legislators to go the extra mile and find ways to raise the extra revenue we need,” he said.

He credited state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, for obtaining the signatures of 15 state senators on a Dec. 28 letter to the governor.The letter claims the existing school funding formula fails to recognize the financial condition of low-wealth, rural schools.

“Rural schools need direct action now in order for them to continue to provide the quality education that our students deserve, and our taxpayers should expect,” the letter states.

At least three bus loads of students and parents from Canton, Potsdam, and possibly other districts are scheduled to travel to Albany on Wednesday to participate in a Rural and Small Cities Forum at the Egg in the Empire State Plaza. The Alliance for Quality Education is paying for the bus rides.

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