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Future uncertain for regional Odyssey of the Mind program

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In a time of declining state aid, extracurricular activities are being cut out of school budgets in an attempt to close increasingly sizable gaps.

Odyssey of the Mind, a 35-year-old international competition that values creativity and quick thinking in the face of challenging problems, is run locally by St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and has been one of the programs frequently on the chopping block in St. Lawrence County schools.

This year’s Region 8 competition, held March 2 at Ogdensburg Free Academy, only saw four school districts participate.

Vanessa B.M. Florie, Region 8 director of Odyssey of the Mind, said as recently as two years ago the Ogdensburg competition saw students from Madrid-Waddington, Lisbon, Potsdam, Gouverneur, Brasher Falls and Saranac Lake central schools compete.

This year only Gouverneur, Brasher Falls, Saranac Lake and Ogdensburg were represented.

“The problem is the budget,” Mrs. Florie said.

She said Madrid-Waddington and Lisbon both withdrew, citing budget constraints.

This year the Ogdensburg City School District is looking at canceling their 20-year involvement in Odyssey of the Mind – saving roughly $8,000 in the process.

Although Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said the school is “in a holding pattern” regarding cuts until the state Legislature finalizes its budget, Odyssey of the Mind is among proposed staff and program cuts the district may require next year.

Potsdam Central School stopped participating in the program two years ago due to a lack of interest, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said.

“For us it hasn’t been for budgetary reasons, we have just not been able to find either parents or staff members who were interested in picking up the mantel and continuing with the program,” Mr. Brady said.

But the budget calculation isn’t entirely removed from the conversation, either.

Mr. Brady said even with interest, it wouldn’t be possible to bring back the program.

“This year, because it was the second year that we did not have anyone interested, we did take it out of the BOCES budget,” Mr. Brady said. “Especially at this time when we are looking closely at our budget, we’re trying to maintain what we have, and to expand further would be very difficult to do.”

Mr. Brady said Odyssey of the Mind cost Potsdam Central School roughly $3,225 a year.

Desiree R. House, Odyssey of the Mind coordinator for the Ogdensburg City School District, said the program has a lot to offer students.

“I think it gives the kids such a creative outlet, something totally different than anything we have,” Mrs. House said. “Odyssey gives them this outlet to develop their minds and their imaginations that no other program does.”

This year Ogdensburg had 45 students participate in Odyssey of the Mind, fielding seven out of 19 teams participating in the March 2 competition.

“It kind of gets in your blood,” Mrs. House said of Odyssey of the Mind. “It’s something you fall in love with.”

If Ogdensburg withdraws from the program, it could make things difficult for the other participating schools in the area. Ogdensburg has traditionally hosted the Region 8 Odyssey of the Mind competition.

“I would have to find another district that would have space. If we lose Ogdensburg we will be hurting because we won’t have that many teams,” Mrs. Florie said.

Mrs. Florie said one avenue that may be considered if Ogdensburg withdraws is merging Region 8, which stretches from Ogdensburg to Plattsburg, with Region 9, covering the Watertown area, or Region 21 in Saratoga.

But the cost of traveling to competitions would add another fiscal strain to already tight budgets.

Nine teams from Region 8 are headed for the state finals on March 23 at SUNY Binghamton.

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