Recent articles have focused on the benefits and cost savings of merging the Canton and Potsdam school districts. One recent report estimated savings of $773,200. I have also noticed other schools within the county have conducted similar studies in the past, with no changes as a result of the study.
Over the past few years, every school in St. Lawrence County has been forced to reduce programs and staff due to budget cuts. Many schools have depleted their reserve funds and still find it difficult to achieve a balanced budget. I see many advantages of a merged district but also know there are obstacles such as travel and distance to any central location to overcome.
While I feel the concept of a merger is beneficial to these schools, I also feel the scale of the merger is too small to maximize financial savings. We have 17 schools in St. Lawrence County, which is also the largest county within New York state.
These 17 schools also represent more than 2,800 square miles along with about 16,272 students. I would suggest a full merger with all 17 schools in St. Lawrence County, to be known as the St. Lawrence County School System.
Under this concept, every school would remain in its current location. For the students in grade school and middle school, nothing would change for them.
For students in high school, a program similar to BOCES could be created. Students in 11th and 12th grade could be bused to area high schools, where a wider range of opportunities and programs could be offered.
If similar savings could be achieved as proposed in the Canton/Potsdam study among all St. Lawrence County Schools, the savings would be over $6.5 million. I also believe there is additional state funding available for schools that merge, which would provide financial benefit and help offset any discrepancies in the different property tax bases.
A larger scale merger would open opportunities to greater shared services and increase savings even more. By leaving the existing school structure in place, the problems with travel would be minimized.
Examples of potential savings may include items such as one centralized payroll office, a fuel contract for the entire county to maximize fuel savings, a single cafeteria menu reducing duplication of work and controlling the cost. The options are endless, but in the end the total cost could be minimized and the students would benefit with many more options available to them.
I am suggesting this concept so that perhaps Canton and Potsdam would open their proposed merger up to other area schools and that other area schools would reach out to them. Every school is in the same situation, and the problems should be addressed together.