POTSDAM - Sandra D. Morris wasnt planning on running for the board of education this year, after having already served on the board for nine years, but given the state and districts current economic situation, she was approached by several people who thought her experience and expertise would be useful to the board.
I was convinced by a group of individuals that my experience and knowledge as a parent, former PTSA advocate and former board of education member would be useful to the current leadership and taxpayers of the Potsdam School District, she said.
While serving on the board from 1998-2007, Ms. Morris said she helped the district through some very difficult times - times similar to what the school is experiencing now.
My first year as a board of education member, the new superintendent and board of education were notified by the districts auditor that the districts finances had a deficit of $1 million, she said. We worked hard and with the support of the community overcame the deficit.
While the district may not be facing a deficit, dwindling state aid numbers, she says, have put the district in a similar situation.
I believe the district is in a similar position today and the experience I gained as a member of the board of education for nine years can help me be part of creating the solution, she said.
Ms. Morris is also the mother of three children, who graduated from the district.
As a parent, my children experienced most of the opportunities that PCS had to offer, she said. This makes me very familiar with the way education works at PCS now and familiar with what is excellent and what needs improvement.
That being said, Ms. Morris said she believes the district is one of, if not the best district in the region.
Potsdam School District is a go-to school district, she said. Families from inside and outside of St. Lawrence County want to move to the Potsdam School District because of its excellent reputation for meeting the needs of all its students. If I am elected, I would do my best to help maintain and enhance its reputation.
Whether or not that includes mergers or regionalization, is something that Ms. Morris said remains to be seen.
This has been a topic of conversation on and off for at least 10 years in St. Lawrence County. As a board of education member, it is important to be open-minded about the issues, she said, adding the process is not an easy one.
There are many obstacles to mergers, she said. After listening to the public at several presentations, it is clear that there is support for shared services and shared administration. The truth is the public wants local control of the education of their young people, a right guaranteed by the state of New York.
The hurdle facing current and future boards of education, she said is continuing to find a way to educate our children at a reasonable price, whether or not mergers are included.
The challenge is finding a way to deliver education that will make everyone satisfied, providing what our young people need in a way that the taxpayers can afford, she said.
One thing she said the tax payers cant afford is a budget that exceeds the states property tax limit.
Exceeding the cap, even by a little bit, was unnecessary. Potsdam is one of only 50 district out of 670 in the state which felt a need to exceed the cap, she said adding, Many of them do not have $5 million in the bank as Potsdam does.
Ms. Morris also said she recognizes that the state and school arent the only ones experiencing tough financial times.
Senior citizens, businesspeople and families in this district already pay the highest school tax in the county, she said. In my opinion, the decision to exceed the cap shows disrespect to the taxpayers of this community who work hard for every dollar.
While she said she didnt agree with the decision to exceed the cap, Ms. Morris said the transparency of this years budget creation process was a good sign.
Everything that was available to the board of education was available to the public, she said.
Ms. Morris also said she agreed with the boards decision to dip into its fund balance and reserve accounts.
What I like about the spending plan is that the board of education took a look at the reserves and are using it to maintain educational programing.
Ms. Morris grew up in Cortland County and graduates from Cortland High School, furthering her education at St. Lawrence University.
It was while in college that she fell in love with the area and decided she wanted to make St. Lawrence County her home.
I learned to love St. Lawrence County while I was a student at St. Lawrence University, she said.
She currently works as a project coordinator for the Research Foundation at SUNY Potsdam and just outside the village with her husband.