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School advocates gearing up for Lake Placid meeting

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Members of the governor’s new Education Reform Commission will likely get an earful when they travel to Lake Placid this month to hear from school officials, parents, students and other north country residents concerned about state funding for public schools and other issues.

As part of a series of regional public meetings, the 20-member commission is scheduled to gather input from Northern New York during a meeting from 1 to 4 p.m Aug. 28. at the Lake Placid Convention Center, 2608 Main St.

Tedra L. Cobb, leader of the Canton-based school equity group, said she’s been informed that only people who submit comments ahead of time will be allowed to speak that day.

She’s encouraging parents, students and others to submit their comments to the web site: www.governor.ny.gov/webform/education.

“My goal is to deluge them with comments,” Ms. Cobb said. “We’re concerned about the state aid formula, and we want that changed. They should be funding schools more equitably and they need to reinstate the funding that has been cut to schools. We’re staying on that message.”

Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of St. Lawrence Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said he’ll be attending the session. Testimony on behalf of the region’s district superintendents will be given by Craig L. King, superintendent of Chaplain Valley Educational Services.

Mr. Burns said the area’s superintendents met Wednesday with state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

“He’s on the commission, and we believe that he understands our concerns and that we share common goals for what the commission might recommend,” Mr. Burns said.

Compared to other states, Mr. Burns said New York has a poor record of equally distributing state funding for education and the situation is worsening.

“This needs to change. Every student in New York state deserves the opportunity to have access to a high quality education,” he said.

Making sure the state maintains its funding commitment to universal pre-kindergarten programs is another priority, Mr. Burns said.

“The research is startling in terms of the benefits of pre-kindergarten,” he said.

The state, he said, should also consider offering more pathways to receiving a high school diploma and invest more heavily in career and technical education programs.

The process of setting up regional schools and consolidating districts should also be simplified, Mr. Burns said.

Canton School Board President Barbara B. Beekman said a show of force at the commission’s meeting is important.

“The more people we have go to this to express the needs on the ground the better,” she said.

As a preview to the commission meeting, the school equity group will meet at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 16 in the high school library at Canton Central School, 99 State St. Questions about that meeting can be directed to Ms. Cobb at tedracobb@gmail.com or 854-2125.

“I’m trying to organize people to submit their comments,” Ms. Cobb said. “We’ll also be talking about the Lake Placid meeting and organizing rides for people who want to go.”

She said it’s important for students to participate because they’re effective at explaining how budget cuts directly impact their education. Students can submit their comments at http://stuvoice.org.

The commission has already held a regional meeting in Binghamton and is scheduled to meet Aug. 14 at LeMoyne College, Syracuse.

Earlier this year, three bus loads of parents and students from Canton, Potsdam, St. Lawrence Central, Norwood-Norfolk and surrounding school districts traveled to Albany to protest state aid cuts that forced many school districts, especially low-wealth rural districts, to cut employees and programs.

They argue that the existing state aid formula needs to be revised because it doesn’t accurately reflect the level of poverty and limited property tax base that exists in the state’s rural areas. State aid cuts over the past few years have disproportionately hurt poor districts which rely more heavily on state aid for income than their wealthier downstate counterparts.

Instead of being reactive, Ms. Cobb said it’s important to advocate for school funding early in the budget process when decisions are being made.

“This is where the rubber meets the road. We have to be pro-active,” she said.

Established by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in April, the Education Reform Commission is charged with examining the structure and operation of the state’s education system.

The goal is to develop long-term efficiencies that create cost savings while also improving student achievement. By traveling throughout the state, the commission is supposed to identify successful models. It’s also tasked with exploring models in other states and countries.

The group is chaired by Richard D. Parsons, retired chairman of Citigroup. Members also include state Sen. John J. Flanagan, R-Long Island, chair of the Senate Education Committee; and state Assemblywoman Catherine T. Nolan, D-Queens, chair of the Assembly Education Committee.

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