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St. Lawrence County educators take Cuomo proposals with a grain of salt

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St. Lawrence County educators are skeptical of the education initiatives laid out in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s State of the State Address on Wednesday, expressing concern that the governor’s priorities may be out of synch with their own.

St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Thomas R. Burns said Wednesday’s address was “the typical state of the state speech. He tends to be very positive and give some sort of broad-brush vision. But the state of the state often lacks the kind of policy details that you might be looking for.”

In his address, Mr. Cuomo proposed financial incentives for high-performing teachers, a $2 billion bill for upgrading in-classroom technology and full-day pre-kindergarten classes.

The proposals themselves were well received in the county, with Mr. Burns characterizing them as another example of Mr. Cuomo being “creative.”

Potsdam Central School Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said Mr. Cuomo’s proposals are “laudable initiatives.”

The most exciting piece of the governor’s plan for area educators was full-day pre-kindergarten.

Ogdensburg City School District Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Kevin Kendall said “a full-day pre-K program is a definite benefit to our students and to our community.”

“There is really very solid research about how effective [pre-kindergarten] is,” Mr. Burns said. “That’s a good thing.”

But the praise doesn’t extend far beyond that.

Educators are worried that Mr. Cuomo’s plan won’t address more pressing budget concerns, and pointed to the fact that the governor didn’t mention issues with the implementation of the Common Core curriculum or the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction from each school district’s state aid allocation implemented in the 2009-10 school year, in his address as a worrying indicator of things to come.

“I appreciate that the governor recognized the inequity of public education funding in New York state,” Mr. Brady said. “However, there appears to be no plan presented to correct the fact that some schools are struggling to survive despite evidence to indicate that the state will have a surplus of funds. The first priority should be to eliminate the $1.6 billion Gap Elimination Adjustment and therefore at least restore schools to the 2008-09 level of state aid funding. The second would be to effectively deal with the unfunded mandates which are driving public school expenses.”

Massena Central School interim Superintendent William W. Crist echoed those concerns saying, “We don’t know how much of this is really going to be funded. I think everybody’s kind of waiting to see what his rhetoric becomes when the numbers are actually presented.”

Canton Central School Superintendent William A. Gregory said doing away with the Gap Elimination Adjustment should be apriority.

“It will be interesting to see what details on these programs are forthcoming in the governor’s budget proposal,” he said.

For now, Mr. Crist said, it’s a wait-and-see approach to find out what the governor’s numbers for education will be when he releases his budget this month.

“That will be helpful to see how what he said lines up with his funding stream and mechanisms to support some of the initiatives,” he said.

Mr. Burns said he is hopeful that the governor’s budget proposal will include more money for basic education funding.

“Because it’s an election year and it looks like the state economy is slowly coming back,” Mr. Burns said, he is hopeful that the budget proposal will have good news for schools in the area.

But Mr. Kendall summed up the current atmosphere: “We take the state of the state with a grain of salt.”

Staff reporters Bob Beckstead, Benny Fairchild and Susan Mende contributed to this report.

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