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Butler meets new constituents, talks school funding

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STAR LAKE — A lilliputian group of Clifton-Fine Central School kindergarten students looked curiously at a well-dressed, burly man walking through their school’s hall Wednesday afternoon.

“Who are you?”

The answer came with a seasoned politician’s magnanimous charm.

“I am Assemblyman Butler, I represent you in Albany,” he said.

117th District Assemblyman Marc W. Butler had a lot of introductions to work through as he took his first visit to St. Lawrence County since last month’s election.

“I had planned on getting up sooner, but I caught the flu,” he said. “This is a great space you have here, very bright, airy and spacious.”

Communities he represents in the county include Madrid, Norfolk, Stockholm, Pierrepont, Parishville, Clare, Colton, Clifton and Fine.

The kindergartners lobbied Mr. Butler for more bathrooms and bigger storage areas.

“I don’t think I’m on that committee,” he said. “We’ll go back to Albany in a couple weeks and start making decisions to help your school.”

Mr. Butler, who will represent parts of St. Lawrence County for the first time next year, said the adjustment to a redrawn district would be simple.

“The distances are greater, but there is a logic and cohesiveness to the district,” he said. “Most of my area is rural, generally conservative and heavy on agriculture. There’s a consistency, and that is a good thing.”

While in Star Lake, Mr. Butler commented on what he perceived as an inequity in the distribution of education funding between rural, urban and suburban districts.

“You have some distinct areas of the state fighting for their piece of the pie, and over time we’ve lost that battle,” he said. “We should fight to get the formula a little fairer.”

Mr. Butler argued against gap-elimination-adjustment cuts — the cuts to state aid used to offset the state’s deficit — because they unfairly penalize low-income districts.

“There are all these contrivances in the formula,” he said. “Constitutionally we’re supposed to be offering equal access to education, but that is not happening now in these rural, low-income districts.”

He said there should be a legislative remedy to the budget woes of area schools.

“When you get into specifics, you’re talking about pension reform. You’re talking about health care. That tends to make people edgy,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s the political will in Albany.”

Mr. Butler, the Minority Joint Conference Chair and a 17-year veteran of the Assembly, said he would be unable to meet his goal of establishing an office in the county, but nevertheless he would try to make his presence known to the area.

“I will be in St. Lawrence County once a month for a two day visit,” he said. “From home to Canton is two and a half hours, so they’ll have to be two-day overnight trips.”

Last month, Mr. Butler won St. Lawrence County by only 215 votes, 2,914 to 2,699. The district includes Clare, Clifton, Colton, Fine, Madrid, Norfolk, Parishville, Pierrepont and Stockholm.

Despite living in Newport and hailing from Herkimer, Mr. Butler, a SUNY Potsdam graduate, is no stranger to the north country.

“I spent some time in the north country,” he said. “This is where I learned about the winter.”

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