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Local superintendents voice concern about state commission

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School districts and the state government have been butting heads for the past three years as aid dropped and standards rose. However, officials in Albany may make more of an effort to address the issues superintendents face daily.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a new education commission Monday that will delve into topics such as low-wealth districts and parent involvement. While many superintendents say it is too early to know how effective the commission will be, some are concerned the committee’s lack of representation from the north country could create even more issues on the local level.

The 20-member commission will address college readiness, education funding and distribution, problems within high-need and low-wealth districts, technology in the classroom, increasing parent involvement, keeping education budgets low and efficient and teacher evaluations. Preliminary recommendations will be sent to the governor at the end of the year.

Sackets Harbor Central School District Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. said he agrees with many of the commission’sgoals. However, he is worried that more mandates could be added as the committee tries to solve the problems unearthed over the next year.

“I am concerned that a year from now, this commission will put in place yet another change or mandate that will derail all of the efforts we have been putting forth to be compliant with this new age of evaluations,” he said. “I do not disagree that we want the most highly effective and engaging educators in front of our students. It has been difficult to meet all of the deadlines with so many moving parts and the nature of what we are creating.”

Superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Jack J. Boak Jr. said he is concerned the committee does not include anyone on the Board of Regents, the body that eventually will vote on any changes.

“There’s not too much to discuss yet,” he said. “The governor gave them a very broad set of discussion items, so it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of it.”

LaFargeville Central School District Superintendent Susan L. Whitney is also concerned about the committee members chosen. She said she did not see any members who have served as superintendents.

“I feel badly that there is not any representation from public education,” she said.

St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns said he feels more confident about the commission’s goals. He said it may prompt reforms designed to help low-wealth, high-need districts.

“We have seen some positives. People don’t always agree with the governor, but he has shown a capacity to get things done,” Mr. Burns said Tuesday after meeting in Albany with BOCES superintendents from the rest of the state. “We’re also hearing that the governor is very serious about mandate relief.”

Michael A. Rebell, a New York City attorney who has spent years advocating for more equitable state funding for lower-wealth school districts, is on the commission..

“We know that the equity issue will definitely be at the table,” Mr. Burns said.

Watertown City School Superintendent Terry N. Fralick agreed that the commission looks as if it may be exploring topics pertinent to the north country.

“I think it’s too early to know if it’ll have a high impact,” he said.

Watertown High School was one of the few schools in the area visited by Mr. Cuomo’s deputy secretary of education, David J. Wakelyn. During the visit, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, commented that the visit showcased the needs of a low-wealth district. Mr. Fralick said it remains to be seen whether the state-level concerns will lead to reform.

Johnson Newspapers writer Susan Mende contributed to this report.

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