School heads thank county, ask for future lobbying help

By PETE KLEIN

Express News Staff

LAKE PLEASANT - County school superintendents heaped praised upon the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Thursday, Nov. 7, and asked for future help fighting state cuts to education.

Three of the county's central school district superintendents were present: Mary Dickerson of Long Lake, Mark Brand of Indian Lake and Thomas Sincavage of Wells. Lake Pleasant Central School District Superintendent Ernie Virgil was unable to attend.

Brand thanked the supervisors for their efforts this past spring to restore some of the education funds slated to be cut from the state budget, saying, "Your influence on our elected representatives is important."

Dickerson told the board, "Misinformation is a big problem for all our schools. Getting the word out on how our budgets are impacted by mandates and the [tax] cap is difficult. We can't keep cutting staff and programs and still have a school."

Brand listed county departments -- including but not limited to Social Services, Highway, Probation and County Court -- that help the schools, with a special thanks to Judge S. Peter Feldstein and Sheriff Karl Abrams and his deputies. "We do a lot together," said Brand. "You don't see that in other counties."

Not all the thanks came from the school superintendents. Wells Supervisor Brian Towers said, "Thank you for opening your doors to our fire departments to take distance learning classes in Indian Lake and Wells."

HARD FACTS

The superintendents passed out fact sheets from the Statewide School Finance Consortium that show the state share of education costs declined from 48.2 percent in 2001/02 to 39.3 percent in 2012/13, a difference of 8.9 percent.

Over the past four years the total state budget has risen $12 billion, but Pre-K education funding from the state has fallen by over $1 billion.

The fact sheets do not show what one might suspect: just throw more money at everything. In fact, SSFC is calling for the removal of any and all money for non-essential programs.

It is also calling for the creation of an equitable Foundation Aid formula for 2015/16, elimination of cost drivers that impede school districts and, of course, "No new unfunded mandates. Don't even think about it!"

COMMENT

Board of Supervisors Chairman William Farber said, "We are always looking for ways to help each other and work together. We are very grateful to the schools for working with us."

Lake Pleasant Supervisor Neil McGovern noted, "This is a county larger in area than the State of Rhode Island. We simply cannot have fewer school districts than we now have. You can only bus so far."

Judge S. Peter Feldstein, who was present on another matter, commented, "What you just heard is crucial to the future of this county."

peterklein@hamiltoncountyexpress.com