Sunday, October 26, 2014

Merger for PCS and CCS? Why we should approve it

Bill Gregory and Pat Brady, the superintendents from Canton and Potsdam Central Schools, were recently interviewed for North Country Matters (NCM) at WCKN (Clarkson University). You can see them at:

(It will show on WCKN on Mon. & Tues. at 7:30 pm and Wed. at 7 pm.)

The facts are simple - the economic crisis of 2008 resulted in severe cuts in state aid to schools. This had little impact in wealthy school districts but it had a devastating impact in poor, rural schools like Potsdam and Canton. They've had to cut 50 positions in each district. This, of course, has led to cuts in educational programs and increases in class sizes. 

Officials in Albany know that rural schools depend heavily on state aid and have made cuts that are harming students. The only option Albany is leaving open to our schools is to merge. 

Anyone who thinks we should sit back and continue to cut employee positions and student programs needs to realize that trying to call Albany's bluff will backfire - they "ain't" budging and they hold all the cards. We simply do not have the political clout in our sparsely populated region to change the Albany mindset that money must be saved via mergers. 

CCS and PCS now enjoy reputations as good schools. However, they have been degraded over the last five years. Metaphorically speaking, don't we all deal with a cancer when it is small? What happens when we sit back and let it spread? In April of 2013 David Acker, Canton-Potsdam President and CEO, said: "If the schools begin to slide, the hospitals will begin to follow that same slope and the colleges will be right behind." 

A merger may not be perfect but it appears to be the only way to rescue our schools. Yes, Canton high-schoolers will have to travel to Potsdam and Potsdam's middle schoolers (6th, 7th, 8th) will have to travel to Canton and that is a sore point. 

However, the merger buys us seven years to pursue getting the funding formula changed so that it takes into account the fact that both Canton and Potsdam have too much untaxed property (the colleges/universities, Canton-Potsdam Hospital - which are also the top employers in the region along with CCS and PCS). CPH President Acker, has also stated: "Stable employment is critical and large stable employers are the most critical because without them there is no tax base, no decent services, no infrastructure that is supportable...there is simply a wasteland of poverty."

It is time to protect our faltering public schools because in doing so we are also protecting the vitality of our North Country.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Still Concerned About the Common Core?

Do you still have questions about the Common Core State Standards - not the tests, the standards? Ever wonder what Canada is doing differently from the US in how it structures it educational system and how its students are rated on international comparisons using tests like PISA?

Tom Burns, BOCES Superintendent in the St. Lawrence/Lewis County region, was interview recently about the CCSS and about his visits to the Ottawa-Carlton school system in Canada.

In this North Country Matters (NCM) Interview, Mr. Burns updates the public and discusses  the CCSS and how the public schools in Ottawa-Carlton are doing with their version the Common Core. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Schools vs. Prisons: A choice to be made

It's been said many times that if society does not adequately fund education, it will end up funding prisons. A recent segment on NCPR revisits this topic in a discussion with Nell Bernstein, author of Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison.

Some facts from the segment:
  • "The American rate of juvenile incarceration is seven times that of Great Britain and 18 times that of France. It costs $88,000 a year to keep a youth locked up - far more than the US spends on a child's education." Potsdam Central spends about $15,000/year/student. To see what is spent by NYS schools, go to:
  • "About 40% of those we keep in large-scale state facilities - which are intended for the worst of the worse - are there for low-level offenses: truancy, shoplifting, loitering, disturbing the peace."
  • Detention sets juveniles up to commit more crimes.
  • Black kids are five times more likely than white kids to be locked up for the same crime. 
  • Incarceration should be the exception, not the rule. 
NYS leaders need to fund education adequately and spend money on issues related to poverty. However, as the for-profit prison industry expands, there will ever more lobbying to spend taxpayers' dollars on incarcerating juveniles.

As a reminder, the Kids-for-Cash case in Pennsylvania was disturbing. See:

"A Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison in connection to a bribery scandal that roiled the state's juvenile justice system. Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes from developers of juvenile detention centers. The judge then presided over cases that would send juveniles to those same centers." 

The schools-to-prison pipeline is a compelling argument to use with legislators and all officials who hold the purse strings and who have a long-range vision for society.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Assemblywoman Addie Russell Discusses Schools

Assemblywoman Addie Russell discussed the future of North Country schools (among other topics) at a recent AAUW gathering in Canton, NY. The fiscal problems schools are facing were mentioned as well as the merger study between Canton Central and Potsdam Central. What was most interesting, though, were her thoughts about school governance.

Addie said the schools could consider going to county-wide governance. She explained that if there was a county-wide governing body, the arbitrary and often problematic school district lines could be erased. This would enable a county-wide administration to select schools (like Massena, Ogdensburg, Canton, Potsdam, and possibly Parishville) to serve as regional high schools and would give administration the ability to send students to the school that is geographically nearest to their homes. It would also permit the continuation of long-time sports rivalries.

For those who think a countywide re-organization of schools sounds a bit off putting, consider the fact that such school governance exists right now; it is the model being used effectively by the St. Lawrence/Lewis BOCES to deliver services.

There would be many benefits if St. Lawrence County had one county-wide administration of public schools instead of having the seventeen separate ones that now exist. Regional schools would be able to provide more academic courses, more extracurriculars, and more sports at a time when all of these are being cut back. In addition, having a much larger pool of employees would give such a district more leverage in bargaining with health insurance providers. Administrative redundancies could be addressed and possibly eradicated.

Mergers and consolidations are widely viewed as one way to deal with school districts' fiscal woes. Some think these may be 1950s and '60s solutions in a 21st century environment.  If the BOCES is making a multi-county educational model work (joining St. Lawrence and Lewis counties), it can be done. Larry Casey, in a recent letter to the editor, wrote, "I believe there is another approach, and it will take some serious collaboration and compromise but it can be done. I believe the long-range solution is to reorganize the entire configuration of schools within the St. Lawrence-Lewis County BOCES area."

Maybe it's time for us to hear more from Assemblywoman Russell and Mr. Casey on this important topic.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Politicians Working to Protect Student Privacy

Kudos to U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R - Utah) and Edward Markey (D- Mass.) who are proposing changes to FERPA - the federal law that protects student privacy. A blog in The New York Times explained the details. See:

According to the blog:

The senators today made public draft legislation to amend the educational privacy law. It would:
— Require schools to maintain and make available a list of all outside companies that have access to their students’ information.
— Give parents the right to review and correct personal information collected about their children by educational apps, online homework software or any other school vendors.
— Minimize the amount of students’ personal details that schools could transfer to companies.
— Prohibit the use of students’ personal information to market products or services to them.
— Require data security safeguards to protect sensitive student data collected by companies.
FERPA had been weakened in recent years and, according to one NYS official, FERPA is not taken very seriously in the K-12 setting. Thus,  it is all the more important that political leaders from different parties are willing to work together to take action to protect students. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Board of Education Candidates Should Have a Vision for the District

Do your board of education candidates have a vision for the school district? If not, they should. Why? According to a recent research study:

" board members should possess a particular vision for the schools that they oversee. Here, we include their support for improving student learning - what we call an academic focus... After all, it is critical that board members prioritize educating students over the needs of adults and other political considerations if they are to fulfill their responsibility to provide students with a high-quality education."

While many view a board of education position as the lowest level elective office, it is an important position because a board with a vision - that puts student interests first - will positively impact student learning.

My vision for the PCSD (and public education in general) has been shared on this blog. See:

All candidates for the PCS BOE are given an opportunity to write a Candidate Statement which is included in the Budget Bulletin that is sent to all community members. It is a chance for candidates to introduce themselves and tell the public their thoughts on important educational issues facing the district, the state, or the nation.  In other words, board candidates can share their platform as well as some biographical information.

District voters will benefit from knowing what BOE candidates want to accomplish and what they believe are the major issues facing the district.