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Canajoharie, NY ,

Joshua Thomas
Canajoharie Pack 81 member Alexander Stabinski brought a sign to the meeting, as did his fellow Cub Scouts, asking "Why is New York discriminating against me?"

Fort Plain Central School Board of Education Member Ron Kardash speaks during Monday's meeting.

Joshua Thomas
Fort Plain Central School Board of Education Member Rusty Capece speaks during Monday's meeting, suggesting that the two districts begin a merger study.

Joshua Thomas
Canajoharie Superintendent of Schools Deborah Grimshaw speaks Monday, using a pie graph to outline how local school districts are funded.


School officials let public know how they can help

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - Updated: 6:30 AM


C-S-E Editor

CANAJOHARIE — Though it was announced that guest speaker Sen. Cecelia Tkaczyk wouldn't be attending Monday's funding inequities meeting as originally planned, as she was tied-up in budget sessions, the hour-long event provided numerous helpful tips about how to address the state aid funding inequities that have plagued local school districts for years.

In attendance at the meeting, along with about 90-100 area residents, were local Cub and Boy Scouts, members of the Canajoharie Central School Board of Education and the Fort Plain School District Board of Education. Fort Plain Superintendent Douglas Burton also spoke at the event.

Grimshaw noted that on average, local schools spend about $19,000 per student education, while wealthier districts of a similar size, below Westchester County, spend about $31,000.

"What could we do if that number was more equitable?" asked Grimshaw, explaining that local schools — where properties are assessed, and therefore, taxed less than in far downstate communities — "are heavily dependent on state aid," and when the current state aid formula fails, it impacts upstate schools far more.

Grimshaw also spoke about the 3.8 million dollars taken from CCS (3.4 million from FPCS) over the past three years because of Gap Elimination Adjustment, noting "what could we do if we had that million dollars every year to support the learning that students do everyday?"

That's been the focus of local advocacy efforts, after the group that held Monday's event — the third local meeting — was put together under the leadership of Board Member Mark Brody, Grimshaw and former board president John DeValve. A goal is to ask, "How do we come together to be stronger than we can individually?" said Grimshaw.

Grimshaw explained, "How we fund schools is law, so those are the people we need to be talking to." She said that there should be a push for the state to recreate the aid redistribution formula, stating, "the long term solution is to legislate the aid distribution," to "make sure the schools that need the aid get the aid."

In the lobby, attendees were able to pick up papers listing the names and addresses of officials they can send letters to, along with a document titled "A Tale of Two Schools", comparing four local districts to similarly sized, wealthier downstate districts.

John DeValve stated that in his experience, officials are far more likely to read and respond to a hand written letter. DeValve said that he attended a meeting in Niskayuna where it was noted that postcards are thrown away, typed submissions are filed, and handwritten ones are read. In his experience, the time to handwrite a letter has paid off, as he's been contacted back after sending one.

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, Fort Plain Central School Board of Education Member Rusty Capece stated, "maybe it's time for Fort Plain and Canajoharie to really start looking at a merger." He asked Grimshaw what kind of additional funding the combined districts might receive.

Grimshaw stated that if a merger were to occur, the schools could expect ten years of additional aid on a decreasing, sliding scale. She noted of the recently merged Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District, "they're talking about what programs they can create and how they're going to create a great experience for their students. They're not sitting around saying, 'how can I piece something together to hold on?'"

One of the most valuable actions people can take in regards to fighting for fair funding, said Grimshaw, is to remain informed. "The more information we get out, the better position we'll be in to advocate for our students," she explained, letting attendees know that locals are welcomed and encouraged to attend CCS' monthly board meetings, held the third Thursday of each month at the Canajoharie High School.

Joshua Thomas - Canajoharie student Melissa Bowley reads a letter written by another upstate student during Monday's meeting.

Joshua Thomas - Canajoharie Superintendent of Schools Deborah Grimshaw speaks Monday.

Joshua Thomas - Fort Plain School District Superintendent Douglas Burton speaks Monday.


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