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Cynthia Ford-Johnston (Photo:  Keene Central School)
Cynthia Ford-Johnston (Photo: Keene Central School)

The North Country's smallest school districts under fire

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This week we've been looking at big cuts in state aid that are hitting schools in New York state. Governor Andrew Cuomo has specifically targeted more than 200 very small school districts, with fewer than a thousand students.

He says many of these hyper-small districts are inefficient and should be consolidated as a cost-savings measure. His budget included a $250 million incentive fund to encourage schools to consider mergers. It turns out, more than forty school districts here in the North Country fall under that thousand-kid threshold, and many more of our districts just barely exceed that number.

Cynthia Ford-Johnston is superintendent of Keene Central School in the Adirondacks, which has roughly 170 students, pre-K though high school. She told Brian Mann that small schools face enormous pressure now to consider mergers.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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"If we don't look at it seriously now, we may never have any financial advantage and still be forced to do it," Ford-Johnston said.

"So I'm stuck.  I've never thought it was a good idea but is it something that's going to be a reality anyway and we should reap the benefits of looking at it seriously now because we might be able to lock in some money?"

Keene Central School is one of the wealthiest districts in the North Country, with a property tax base boosted by vacation homes.
 
Ford-Johnston acknowledges that the district spends roughly $30,000 per student per year – almost twice the statewide average of $17,000.

But she told Brian Mann that she doesn’t think Governor’s Cuomo’s school consolidation agenda  is the answer, for saving money, improving education, or preserving communities in rural New York.

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