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.