Students attending schools in the Adirondack Park are at a disadvantage. That’s the feeling of Ticonderoga Central School District officials, who are asking the state to create a special fund to help finance education within the Blue Line.
Students attending schools in the Adirondack Park are at a disadvantage.
That’s the feeling of Ticonderoga Central School District officials, who are asking the state to create a special fund to help finance education within the Blue Line.
“The children living within the Adirondack Park are being under-served as a result of the inability to financially support their educational institutions beyond the local property tax,” said John McDonald, Ti school superintendent. “This problem will continue to grow unless communities within the park can grow their tax base through economic development. However, that is not a likely scenario based on the regulations that exist to keep the park as a natural preserve to benefit future generations.”
The Ti school board has adopted a resolution asking the state to create a special fund for Adirondack schools and is asking local school districts and other officials to join in the campaign.
“It may be pie in the sky, but we need to do something,” McDonald said. “The reductions in state (school) aid and lack of economic growth place a tremendous burden on local taxpayers. The property tax levy is our only source of revenue.
“The new property tax cap adds to this dilemma as it now limits the only source of revenue schools can influence to meet the rising costs of mandates, pension, health insurance and other elements related to operating a school system,” he said.
The money for the education fund could be generated by those who use the Adirondack Park, McDonald suggested.
“Since the Adirondack Park was established and is constantly touted as the ‘playground’ for the state, it’s only fair that those who benefit from it should help those who live in it,” McDonald said.
Besides limited economic development, Adirondack Park schools have other issues, McDonald noted. Most are rural and small, many with declining enrollments.
“When the state made a flat percentage cut in aid across the state it hurt us (Adirondack) schools more than others,” the superintendent said. “A cut of $100,000 means a lot more to us than to a much larger school. The big school may eliminate a language program, so it’s only offering four languages instead of five. Here, we only offer two languages. That’s a much more serious cut to our students.”
The current state education aid formula is based on a district’s assessed property value and its poverty level, as measured by the number of free and reduce price lunches served to students.
“Property values are not a good measure of a community’s ability to pay taxes,” McDonald said, noting the existence of many high-value second homes in the park. “A community can have high property values, but its year-round residents may not be able to afford higher school taxes.”
He used Ticonderoga as an example. The Ti school district, which borders both Lake George and Lake Champlain, has the highest property values in this area. Yet, the school serves free or reduced price lunches to 48 percent of its students.
The rural nature of schools in the Adirondack Park is also a problem.
“As school enrollments drop, school leaders and boards of education are able to cut costs associated with certain parts of the school program, however other costs remain consistent,” McDonald said. “The costs of maintaining a facility does not fluctuate based on enrollment. Energy costs, insurance, debt service and daily maintenance are just some of the expenses that do not change when enrollment drops.
“It is incumbent on school districts to constantly assess their organizational structure in order to find opportunities to consolidate buildings and services, but that is not always an option given the vast distance between communities in the park,” he said.
It’s time for the state to acknowledge the Adirondack Park has changed since it was created in 1892. Then it was 2.6 million acres. Now it’s 6.1 million acres. The APA was formed in 1971 and regulations adopted to restrict development. Also, the state forest preserve has more than doubled.
“The park is a unique resource that New Yorkers should be proud of,” McDonald said, “but what has not been fully considered throughout its evolution and growth is the negative impact on the public educational institutions and the children they serve.”
Ti officials hope other school districts, towns and counties support their proposal.
“We want a united front; not just one school,” McDonald said. “Ticonderoga is trying to get the ball rolling, but we hope this gets support from school boards, towns and counties in the Adirondack Park.”
McDonald said he has had “positive” discussions with state Sen. Betty Little’s office on the issue.
A special education fund for Adirondack schools would benefit the entire region, McDonald believes.
“Although directed at schools, this fund would benefit all that reside within the park as it will reduce everyone’s reliance on the property tax,” he said. “In addition, it will confirm the state’s commitment to keep the park as a natural preserve and further demonstrate that it is a model for conservation for all New Yorkers.”
The superintendent stressed the Ticonderoga proposal is not an attack on the APA or the state. Adirondack schools face unusual challenges, he said, and need help.
“We’re not trying to be critical of the state or the APA (Adirondack Park Agency),” McDonald said. “We’re pointing out that the Adirondack Park is a unique place with unique rules and regulations. The state needs to recognize those regulations impact the people who live here.”