Canton, NY, May 09, 2011 — This school budgeting season has been among the toughest in memory.
Schools are swallowing hard to absorb Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 1.2 billion dollar cut in state education aid. Defending his cuts, he commands, "manage the school system. Reduce the waste, reduce the fraud, reduce the abuse.... 'Well, we don't have any.' ...I don't believe it."
Cuomo wants other efficiencies as well. He's looking for mergers and consolidations, and he's pushing small schools especially hard. We've reported that many of the North Country's little rural schools are struggling with state aid cuts that are disproportionate - bigger dollar for dollar than cuts in much larger, wealthier districts downstate.
Districts like Beaver River could end up with a single foreign language in the curriculum, or no advanced placement programs, or no music and art. As Superintendent Lueen Smithling told us, "Rural schools should not be taken advantage of and essentially he's creating a caste system of lower, substandard schools, and is that right?"
Even before this year's deep cuts, educators in St. Lawrence County saw alarming trends for small schools. The St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES office had already commissioned the Rural Schools Association of New York State to study alternatives to save schools and improve education. A draft report is due at the end of May, with public meetings planned.
Dennis Sweeney is leading the research team. They visited each district, analyzed data, and asked follow-up questions. He told Martha Foley this spring's budget climate just highlighted how dire the rural school picture is.