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BOCES superintendents agree: Russell bill would help north country


If Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell’s School Equity Bill passes, it would make north country school districts very happy, according to two Board of Cooperative Educational Services officials.

Her bill proposes state aid increases between 8 and 39 percent for Jefferson and St. Lawrence county school districts by reallocating the state’s funding, according to a news release. Mrs. Russell, D-Theresa, hopes to have some of her provisions added to the state budget.

“Her bill shows that she understands the problem and is working with her Assembly colleagues to try to help our local school districts,” said St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns in an email. “I’m not certain that a Regional Cost Index as proposed in her bill helps north country districts, but the numbers she provides in her simulated runs appear to help nearly all of our schools.”

Although Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr. did not see Mrs. Russell’s hypothetical state aid runs, he said he was familiar with her bill.

“I thought it was something that would really be of help to all of our districts,” he said.

According to the news release, Watertown City School District would receive a “ballpark” increase of 21 percent, or about $6.2 million. Potsdam Central School District would see an 18 percent increase in aid, or about $1.7 million. The average increase would be around 20 percent.

In Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, most districts in the region saw 2 to 4 percent increases in state aid.

“The amounts are an approximate estimation of the amount of funding our schools are being short-changed in basic school aid,” Mrs. Russell said in the release. “When the economy recovers and the school aid formula is fully funded, districts will continue to benefit by the same percentage unless the district’s wealth changes considerably.”

In a phone interview, she said the goal is to have some of her provisions, which include getting rid of the income wealth ratio, incorporated in the state budget.

“So it may be a partial victory,” she said.

However, she noted that some lawmakers, like state Sen. John J. Flannagan Jr., R-Smithtown, are trying to discredit her bill as too costly for the state. In a YNN Capital Tonight interview last week in Albany, he said the bill is “adverse to the interest of upstate New York” — despite what Mr. Boak and Mr. Burns say.

Mr. Burns hopes the Assembly and Senate can find common ground to help upstate rural schools.

“A frustration I have is that in spite of this bill, we cannot seem to get the Assembly and the Senate to come to agreement on a common approach to helping high-needs rural districts,” he said in an email. “The Executive has the upper hand in these budget deliberations, in my opinion, so he will need to come down on one side of the aisle or the other in terms of his preference, if he has one, to supplement school aid, or reach a compromise.”

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