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Colton-Pierrepont board candidates debate consolidation

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COLTON - School consolidation was a topic of debate for five individuals vying for two seats on the Colton-Pierrepont Board of Education during a “meet the candidates” forum Wednesday night.

Tracy Hoose, Lena Matthie and Lisa Warner are taking on incumbents Scott Baxter and Shelli Prespare-Weston in the May 15 election. Mr. Baxter, who works at LaValle Transportation Inc., is seeking his second four-year term, while Ms. Prespare-Weston, who has served as board president and vice president, is seeking her fourth.

Ms. Hoose is a former biology teacher and CPCS alumnus who returned to Colton to be closer to her family, while Ms. Warner is a BOCES shared art teacher for 700 students at the St. Lawrence Central and Clifton-Fine school districts. Ms. Matthie is a former CPCS bus driver and would like to delve into school affairs again.

Each candidate said they had mixed feelings about school consolidation, which has been discussed in rural districts across the region over the last couple of years. Ms. Prespare-Weston said the a larger district could mean more opportunities for students. But she worried about other changes, including the additional transportation for students, if the district were to consolidate.

“I worry not so much about our students. They’re already interacting with the kids from Parishville or Potsdam,” she said. “I don’t want them to be swallowed up by another school.”

Ms. Warner said consolidation can mean more cultural opportunities for students. She saw consolidating at a high school level as a “great” option.

“We’re going to be able to offer so many more art classes, so many more music classes,” she said. “we may lose the student to teacher ratio. As a whole, I think it would benefit our students.”

Mr. Baxter said transportation issues make some consolidation ideas impractical. If CPCS was merged with Potsdam, for example, some students would have quite a hike from the Adirondack Park into the village each day.

Candidates also discussed their ability to resolve conflicts. Ms. Matthie, a mother of three, said her experience as a parent and bus driver would help her solve conflicts.

“I’m a very outgoing person ,and I’m willing if someone has a question to hear them out,” she said.

Ms. Hoose said her experience of teaching ninth and tenth graders would lend themselves to a board seat.

“The problems can be very similar,” she said.

The forum followed a public hearing on the board of education’s 2012-2013 spending plan attended by a handful of Colton and Pierrepont residents. The $9.47 million spending plan is an $85,000 or 0.91 percent increase in expenses over last year. The projected tax levy increase is $6,790,000, a $135,000 or 2.03 percent hike from last year. There are no loss of programs or increase in class sizes from that budget.

The board of education adopted that spending plan at a recent meeting. Voters will have a chance to accept or reject that plan on May 15.

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