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Once again I found myself unable focus on a single topic for the week.

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The St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg appears safe. For now. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposals to place more emphasis on outpatient care and downsize institutionalization for the mentally ill didn’t make it into the state budget. That doesn’t mean those plans are dead.

Our state lawmakers are still wary that plans to downsize institutional care will resurface and create a vacuum in services for people who need them. The state’s focus needs to be on improving the lives of people with mental illness, not finding the cheapest options to keep an already inadequate system lumbering along. Lawmakers have said they will remain watchful and fight any proposal that means the closure of our psychiatric center. Stay tuned.

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We published an article in The Journal Saturday highlighting the fact that even though the Ogdensburg City School District’s students, programs and staff are shrinking in number every year, its annual costs are still rising by more than $3 million. The sad truth is that Ogdensburg isn’t alone. Those cost increases are mostly attributed to state mandated programs and employee pensions and health insurance, the same uncontrolled costs facing every other school district.

I have spent a lot of ink in this column criticizing a proposal to regionalize three of our high schools, and I’m still not a big fan of that idea. But at least our locals are trying to do something to improve education and lower costs for the limited things that are within their control. The state, meanwhile, seems to be content with a wildly expensive public education system that delivers mediocre results.

The inaction from our state lawmakers and education officials is disgusting. Somebody needs to take a leadership role on reforming the way education is funded and delivered before our schools are all bankrupt and the next generation is totally illiterate. We’ve been talking about it for decades. Enough talk. It’s time to do away with the staggering number of useless mandates that cripple our schools’ ability to teach our kids, rethink the way special education is delivered, reform the public employee pension system from the ground up, make better use of the technology at our fingertips to improve education and bring down costs, and the list goes on. State lawmakers, stop wasting time and get to work. Our kids and our wallets can’t wait any longer.

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The news late Friday afternoon that Alcoa will move ahead with plans to modernize its Massena plant was a tremendous relief for officials throughout the north country. Officials had worried about the lack of word from the company as Monday’s deadline loomed to move ahead with its plans. Lack of a modernization plan would have jeopardized Alcoa’s 30-year, low-cost power contract with the state, putting at risk 900 jobs held by people all over St. Lawrence and Franklin counties. The loss of those jobs would have been devastating to all of our communities.

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I’ve been reading with interest about the workshop offerings organizers of the Local Living Venture have been able to bring together. The Local Living Venture, part of the Sustainable Living Project, started off modestly a few years back with a handful of workshops to help people live more simply and economically. They also established an annual fair to bring all of that information together in one place. Its offerings have grown steadily since. Organizers offer workshops throughout the year on topics that cover gardening, food preservation, finding local foods, beekeeping, energy efficiency and living off the grid and more. If you haven’t checked out any of the workshops so far, plan to attend the Local Living Festival April 27 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Learning Farm or check out the festival page on the venture’s website at www.sustainablelivingproject.net. The fair will offer all kinds of exhibits, experts and displays on the topics I just mentioned and more. If you have any interest whatsoever in growing your own food, living on a smaller budget, cutting your energy costs or supporting local farmers by buying directly from them, the venture’s workshops and Local Living Festival are worth your time.

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