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Griffo hears St. Lawrence County school officials

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LOWVILLE — More than a dozen school administrators from St. Lawrence and Lewis counties met Thursday with state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo to air concerns and discuss education funding.

“I yield to your counsel,” said Mr. Griffo, R-Rome, who set up the session here after being unable to attend the Jefferson-Lewis School Boards Association’s legislative breakfast held a couple of weeks ago in Watertown.

St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Thomas R. Burns and Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent John J. Boak Jr. expressed concern that state education officials don’t appear to have a plan for school districts heading toward financial insolvency.

“It’s something they have to plan for now,” Mr. Burns said of cash-strapped districts.

Mr. Griffo said there may be a task force established to advise such districts and other local governments, and he said he hopes officials may have other ideas that haven’t been released yet.

The money proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for area school districts is probably not enough, but “the good news is at least you’re seeing an upward trend in education funding,” Mr. Griffo said.

He said he would like to see $245 million in funding that has been withheld from districts — primarily ones in New York City — that failed to establish teacher evaluation policies redistributed to all complying districts.

“You did your work,” he said. “You played by the rules.”

Mr. Griffo said he also favors elimination of competitive grants for schools and increased funding for low-wealth districts and plans to introduce soon legislation requiring that any new state mandates have funding attached.

However, the senator noted that upstate and downstate lawmakers tend to be divided on school funding distribution and other issues and acknowledged that he is not really certain how his proposals will fare, particularly under the Senate’s new bipartisan coalition leadership.

Mr. Griffo also asked administrators for their thoughts on the governor’s proposals of longer school days and full-day prekindergarten.

He said he would rather fund pilot programs at several districts first before implementing it on a more extensive basis.

St. Lawrence Central School District Superintendent Stephen M. Putman questioned a requirement that districts each year conduct an internal audit of procedures, along with their regular external audit. “It’s a totally unfunded mandate,” he said.

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