By BENNY FAIRCHILD
POTSDAM - Prior to serving for eight years on the school board, Mary Ashley Carroll regularly attended meetings for a dozen years, giving her a historical background and experience she feels would benefit the Potsdam Central School District.
In terms of my knowledge, its built up over 20 years, she said. I am very familiar with the district, what it has to offer and its staff.
Ms. Carroll is also the mother of three students who graduated from Potsdam - Lauren, 96; Will, 00; and Jordan,06.
Education was a priority for me, as well as my husband, who was a certified teacher, and we passed that gene to each of our children, all of whom work in education, she said.
Its that concern for education that has led her to seek another term on the board.
There are actually two crises going on in the United States right now. One is financial and the other is education, she said. In Potsdam, we have the luxury of being a strong district, but were not just competing locally anymore. Were competing internationally.
The key to becoming more competitive though, she said, is resolving the fiscal issues facing the district.
I was on the board for eight years and even though I wasnt on the finance committee I attended their meetings. I also attended several conferences and received a lot of training, she said. I feel like I bring a lot of knowledge to the table.
One way to do that would be to get our costs under control, she said, explaining that 62 percent of the budget is attributed to salary and benefits, leaving only 38 percent for everything else.
The taxpayers dont have the resources to continue this, she said. Building a budget in a school is not a lot different than building a budget in a home; there are just a lot more zeroes.
Ms. Carroll added, Instead of income you have revenue and then you have expenditures and expenses. They need to balance.
Thats something, Ms. Carroll said, she would like to see accomplished without laying off employees.
I dont think decreasing expenses has to mean people losing their jobs, she said. Even if your job is restored, what a terrible way to live your life, going year to year.
Ms. Carroll said one thing she would like to see is more long-term planning.
There needs to be a five-year plan developed. Ive always thought that, she said, noting that was a suggestion she made while serving on the board.
There are obviously unforeseen circumstances that come up and Im not suggesting that you cant deviate from it, but if youre in good financial shape youre in a position to deviate from it.
When asked what she though of this current years budget, Ms. Carroll said she would not have approved of going over the tax cap.
Im concerned that they went over the tax cap. I think they should have stayed under the cap, especially when theyre going to be going to the community for a capital project in a few months, she said, adding she would have recommended dipping further into their reserve accounts.
Thats what theyre put there for, she said. When you have reserves, you put them away for a rainy day and its pouring out.
Another issue facing Northern New York school districts is mergers or the potential creation of a regional high school.
I think its going to be a challenge, because of the schools in closest proximity to us. Colton-Pierrepont has a really good resource with their tax base, she said,. I think its wise, but its problematic.
Ms. Carroll explained that any merger would require the consent of each of the districts and that could be a challenge since Potsdams tax rate is among the highest in the county.
Both sides have to agree, and we have one of the highest tax rates in the county. Who would want to sign on with us? Their taxes would go up, she said. While I understand where theyre (those pushing for mergers and or regionalization) are coming from, there needs to be a dose of reality in discussing it. There are fiscal issues for the taxpayers, emotional issues for the parents and students and potential implications for staff.
Ms. Carroll graduated from Ogdensburg Free Academy and moved to Potsdam with her late husband, Bill, 30 years ago. She also attended LeMoyne College.
When asked to describe what she did for a living, Ms. Carroll replied, I was a wife, a mother, a homemaker and a professional volunteer.
Ms. Carroll worked for 15 years as an election inspector and for five years as an election inspector trainer.
She will be joined on the ballot by fellow former school board members, Ann M. Carvill and Sandra D. Morris, incumbent J. Patrick Turbett, James Hubbard and Danielle L. Gray in the race for three seats.