It is fair to ask, given the effects of the Cuomo administration’s school aid policies, whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to kill Hamilton County.
Kill the schools in a community and you cut the heart out of it, especially in remote rural districts such as those in Hamilton County. It is difficult already for a place like Long Lake, with its bitter winters and lack of jobs, to attract year-round residents. It would be impossible without a local school.
What would real estate agents say to families with school-age children house-hunting in Long Lake — “Newcomb is only 14 miles east through a mountain pass?” Or how about, “Indian Lake is only 22 miles south?”
Long Lake and Indian Lake schools already join forces to field some sports teams, and depending on the weather, traveling that 22 miles of twisting mountain roads can take the better part of an hour.
State aid for Long Lake school district is being cut 27 percent under Cuomo’s budget; and Indian Lake’s is being cut 16 percent. Each of the four school districts in Hamilton County (Indian Lake, Lake Pleasant, Long Lake and Wells) is getting its aid cut, making Hamilton the only county in the state to wind up with a year-to-year school aid decrease under the governor’s budget.
What is the governor’s gripe with Hamilton County? Is the Cuomo administration trying to force the small schools of the Adirondacks into such a precarious position they will be forced to merge?
We have long advocated for the merger of small neighboring school districts, where feasible, but we do not believe the Hamilton County districts are good candidates. If the governor is trying to push these school districts toward consolidation, the piecemeal destruction of local programs is the wrong way to go about it.
It is inefficient to run a school, with the fixed costs of maintaining a building, running buses and paying teachers, when you’re only educating a handful of kids in each grade. But you can’t just close school buildings in places like Hamilton County because the districts are so large and the schools so far apart.
Hamilton County has the smallest population of New York’s 62 counties, spread out over the fifth-largest area.
Unless Gov. Cuomo is willing to tell families with school-age children they can’t live in Hamilton County — which sounds unconstitutional, not to mention wrong — his administration is going to have to provide districts like Long Lake and Indian Lake with state aid sufficient to the needs of their students.
We’re not talking about offering Cadillac curriculums. Indian Lake, with 135 students in K-12, offers no advanced placement courses and one language — French — which students start in eighth grade.
The district works hard to do well by its students. It offers college-level courses through partnerships with regional community colleges, and has a distance learning classroom where it partners with other remote districts to offer electives.
But compare Indian Lake with, for example, Syosset high school on Long Island, where students begin language study in kindergarten and high-schoolers can choose from American Sign Language, French, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Spanish.
Syosset and Indian Lake do have one thing in common — both receive from the state significant amounts of “high tax aid,” which is funding for districts where property values are high, even if incomes aren’t.
In both communities, a strong second home market has driven up the cost of land.
But in Syosset, when high tax aid is reduced, the district might have to drop one of the eight languages it offers, or start kids on foreign languages in second grade rather than kindergarten.
In Indian Lake and the three other Hamilton County districts, aid cuts threaten the schools with collapse. That threat is not restricted to the Adirondacks, either. It is being felt in rural districts throughout New York.
In many districts in our area, teachers and programs have already been cut. They cannot absorb further reductions in aid, and their residents cannot afford to make up for aid cuts through tax hikes.
Schools that started with limited resources are being squeezed out of existence. If they die, the communities will, too, and the blame will lie with Gov. Cuomo.
If his pledges to pay attention to upstate are more than lip service, Gov. Cuomo needs to change the school aid formula to protect the rural schools of Hamilton County and elsewhere.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Robert Sledd.