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Tight grant deadlines, lack of resources create problems for schools

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With its tight deadline, the latest $15 million state grant to transform school districts into community centers is unlikely to help any north country schools, local officials say.

It’s not just one grant, either. Jefferson-Lewis and St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services superintendents see this as a trend with the current administration in Albany.

“In general, grants coming from the state seem to look like this,” said St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Thomas R. Burns.

The grant, announced Aug. 26, advertises that it will “align education, health and social services” for 30 high-need schools across the state.

“The State is empowering schools in distressed communities to give students extra help through health care services, family counseling and employment assistance, all of which will strengthen our neighborhoods and give students in those areas additional support, both in and out of the classroom,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a news release.

Mr. Burns said that as school districts adjust to the new school year and the mountain of mandates they face, the Sept. 18 application deadline does not give poor, rural schools enough time to compete with larger schools that have grant-application writers on staff.

“It doesn’t look as favorable to us as the governor’s press release might indicate,” Mr. Burns said, noting that the grant seems geared toward urban schools.

The only district that has a designated grant-application writer is Carthage Central. Although Carthage qualifies as a high-needs district according to the state, Superintendent Peter J. Turner said he does not plan to apply for the grant.

Mr. Burns and Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr. agree that moving state money into competitive grants rather than into the pool of state aid hurt north country districts.

“This is a trend with the governor,” Mr. Boak said. “If you don’t even have the staff to apply for the grants, that’s money lost for us.”

Mr. Boak said that because of the rural nature of Northern New York, its schools already tend to be community centers. However, as state aid dries up, so do the services.

To combat this, the two BOCES consortia plan to hire a grant-application writer to be shared among the 32 Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence county districts that might need the resource. St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Stephen J. Todd said the service will be available next month. The districts hope to be a state model for resource sharing and efficiency.

“We have to fill in the gaps with services that districts cannot provide themselves,” Mr. Todd said.

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