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School administrators step up in Tupper

April 22, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

We congratulate Superintendent Seth McGowan and the other administrators of the Tupper Lake Central School District for biting the bullet and working out a plan to absorb an essential position - middle-high school principal - after current Principal Pam Martin retires this summer.

Mr. McGowan will take on the principal's job as well as his own, with the help of seven other school officials who will take on extra responsibilities. They're worth singling out here for thanks: L.P. Quinn Elementary School Principal Carolyn Merrihew, Special Programs Director Kelly Wight, Athletic Director Russ Bartlett, grant writer Carol Lamb, resource teacher Petra LaBarge and guidance staff members Matt Southwick and Lisa Gillis.

District officials expect this reorganization will save up to $130,000, although some of that may go to stipends for the extra work administrators will take on, which will be negotiated.

Alternatives were to lay off teachers, raise taxes steeply or have teacher and/or staff unions make voluntary sacrifices. But the district went through all that last year, when a quarter of the teaching staff was dropped, teachers agreed to chip in for their health insurance and taxes still jumped almost 8 percent.

This year, with Tupper schools hit again by state aid cuts and rising employee benefit costs, it was administrators' turn.

It won't be easy for them. Being principal for a school that size is at least a full-time job, and running a school district is also a great deal of work. But with help from the district's administrative team, we believe Mr. McGowan will make it work. It's a doable challenge.

There will inevitably be some weaknesses: Teachers may not get as much supervision as they used to, and some issues might take a little longer to address. But then again, maybe not. And if so, adjustments can be made. Regardless, it will have much less impact on students than if the district laid off more teachers, and it won't further damage Tupper Lake's depressed economy like severe tax hikes would.

Also, the leaner administration might prove more effective and efficient than it was before.

This is an example for other Adirondack school districts to consider. They don't have to copy it; each place has to figure out its own path to follow as state school aid diminishes - a trend to plan for, since Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it plain he wants small school districts to consolidate. Many districts might find it better to merge with their neighbors or share administrative functions. Tupper's plan makes sense because that community is so geographically isolated, 20 miles from the nearest school neighbors.

Saranac Lake, the only local district with more than 1,000 students, is perhaps too big for a joint superintendent-principal, and tiny districts like Keene and Long Lake already merge the jobs, but the new Tupper Lake model could be of great benefit to those in between.

It wouldn't hurt for every school board in the Park to discuss Tupper's plans with their constituents in public.

Mr. McGowan is the lowest paid school superintendent in the Tri-Lakes area, yet next year he plans to take on the most work. We're paying school administrators big bucks to be the most responsible people in our districts. Now those in Tupper Lake can say, more confidently than those elsewhere, that they're public servants.



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