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Regional approach needed to realign schools

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Over recent months, there has been much discussion about a possible merger of the Potsdam and Canton schools. There have been many meetings, newspaper articles and letters to the editor.

Countless discussions have occurred in the north country about this issue. It is one topic about which everyone seems to have an opinion. Clearly, it is an emotional issue as well as an educational, financial, family and business issue.

The topic touches families, academics, the future opportunities of young people, taxes, teachers, support staff, curricular and extracurricular opportunities, and more. The range of issues goes far beyond any letter that any one person could write, and the issues are complicated, sensitive and emotional.

It is clear that the schools in the north country cannot continue on as they have done for decades. Something must change, and that seems clear to everyone.

The school districts that are solvent now may not be in two or three years. Some school districts are in deep financial and educational peril.

It may well be that the solution in the north country is to merge two neighboring school districts. That could be the short- and long-range answer to all of our problems.

I believe there is another approach, and it will take some serious collaboration and compromise but it can be done. I believe the long-range solution is to reorganize the entire configuration of schools within the St. Lawrence-Lewis County BOCES area.

A lot of work has gone into a possible Canton and Potsdam merger; that need not be wasted. That huge effort could catapult all of the schools in the north country into a broader study. Would it be possible to reorganize so that the area supported five, six, seven larger school districts?

Canton and Potsdam may benefit from a merger, both educationally and financially, but what about the districts that adjoin Canton and Potsdam? What happens to them? Do they matter? What happens to other smaller districts in the area?

How often has it happened that a study, a reconstruction project for such-and-such district took place, and in a short time people have said, “Why didn’t we consider this factor? Did we really need to add all of that new construction? Did we really examine our student population for five, 10 years in the future?” That has certainly happened in Canton.

The most important issue, I believe, is what is best for all of the children, families and schools of the north country, not what is best for Canton and Potsdam. The Canton and Potsdam merger may well be approved.

If they do merge, this could be very successful. I wonder how long it will be before the good people of all of the communities of the north country say, “What about our children?” Name the small town. Don’t the children of all of our communities deserve the same rigorous study as those of Canton and Potsdam?

This approach will not be easy. Make no mistake: No school district will look the same in the future as it is now should a major reorganization occur. Doing the reorganization of schools at the county, regional level is more sensible than completing such an effort piece by piece.

In the eyes of many, the small community school is still the best approach. That may be true.

Sad to say, it doesn’t appear this will be the case in the future. If change is necessary for a variety of reasons, it would seem sensible that we approach this at a regional level, not just for Canton and Potsdam.

Larry Casey


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