Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School
While many local school officials are pleased that the current state administration is looking at the education system, they feel many key issues were not tackled in a recent report.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office released a preliminary report from the NY Education Reform Commission, a group of nationally recognized education, community and business leaders to make recommendations for future reforms in education.
“I think that the committee is well intended and they have done some pretty good work,” Elizabethtown-Lewis Superintendent Scott Osborne said. “The issue that I have so far is these are the same issues that are already very well known in the education community. Where is the discussion about unfunded mandates and equitable funding across the state’s differing communities?”
“Everything has to be on the table as we look at the future and the financial table down the road,” Willsboro Superintendent Stephen Broadwell said.
“They did not tackle any of the tough issues,” Westport Superintendent John Gallagher said. “The really difficult issues about funding education are not in there. When you are in an area where you do not get an assessed valuation on anything that could carry the weight of a budget, then it all goes onto the backs of the homeowners. The tax cap and state funding reductions put our towns at a tremendous disadvantage.”
Osborne said that he was pleased to see the report praise teachers and administrators for the jobs that they are doing.
“I think that we have been a political football for the past couple of years,” Osborne said. “It is encouraging to see the educators and administrators recognized by the commission for the work they do.”
“It’s nice that they would compliment teachers and districts for doing the best that they can,” he said.
One of the main components of the report was to “pursue efficiencies such as district consolidation, high school regionalization and shared services to increase student access to educational opportunities.”
“I think that shared services is something that is on everybody’s radar,” Broadwell said. “How do we utilize the monetary resources we have available to our towns and bring things together. We can look at how do we merge transportation and other programs while keeping schools open.”
“This is a discussion that we have been having for two years with five different school districts,” Gallagher said. “It needs to focus on how we can share more. We and ELCS share a business office. We have to look at what else can we do to keep our schools open.”
“It’s very easy to sit in Albany and see what they are talking about and say we should be consolidating districts,” Osborne said. “I am not sure that the state has these rural areas in mind, but this is a looming topic at the forefront of many reform pushes.”
The administrators all agreed that the financial implications, while at the center of any consolidation talks, are not alway the ones that win out.
“People will worry about their school mascots and what the color scheme would be, but what everyone needs to focus on is sustaining a strong education for our kids — can it broaden opportunities for our kids, period,” Osborne said. “I think that a regional high school approach would have more traction here than consolidations.”
“Schools are a focal point of their communities in this area, and no one wants to lose their identity,” Broadwell said. “There are many things you can look at. You could have two regional high schools where one is heavy into math and sciences while the other is more humanities and cultural.”
Other issues addressed in the preliminary report included providing high quality full-day pre-kindergarten for our most at-risk students; creating statewide models for “Community Schools” that use schools as a community hub to improve access to public, non-profit, and private services/resources, like health and social services, for students and their families; transforming and extending the school day and year to expand quality learning time for students, especially in underserved communities; improving the teacher and principal pipeline to recruit and retain the most effective educators; building better bridges from high school to college and careers with early college high schools and career technical education; utilizing all available classroom technologies to empower educators to meet the needs of a diverse student population and engage students as active participants in their own learning; and increasing transparency and accountability of district leadership by creating a performance management system.
The New NY Education Reform Commission plans to release its final report to Gov. Cuomo in the fall of this year. The report can be found at governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/EducationReformCommissionReport.pdf.