Saranac Lake school board appoints new BOCES rep

SARANAC LAKE – Saranac Lake Central School District board member Shir Filler stepped down recently as the district’s Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services representative in order to focus on her school board duties.

The board on Wednesday appointed Dr. George Cook of Saranac Lake, a recently retired family physician, to take Filler’s place on the FEH-BOCES board. Cook said he’s excited about it.

“This job just popped up. I had no intentions of doing that, but I felt I better put my energy where my mouth is.” Cook said. “Now I have a little bit more time (since retiring).”

Filler, a professor at North Country Community College, said she joined the BOCES board because she saw a potential for the school district, BOCES and local colleges to share services.

“To me, the main reason I joined the board, and why I’m sad I can’t stay on it, is because I see this huge opportunity,” Filler said. “Shared services is just the beginning. I think the three could really work together to do some great things to be innovative.”

Filler said a big issue during her time on the BOCES board was a lack of state funding. The BOCES district had a $250,000 deficit during her time there, she said.

“One thing I had to vote for unfortunately was (cuts to) the special education preschool program,” Filler said. “Four members of the staff were cut.”

Filler said it’s “ridiculous and ironic” that the BOCES had to cut preschool programs around the same time Gov. Andrew Cuomo began an ultimately successful push to fund full-day universal pre-kindergarten.

“My personal feeling is that everything that Cuomo has done this year has been for completely political purposes and not what’s best for the children,” she said.

At last week’s school board meeting, Cook spoke up for the teachers in the Saranac Lake school district, saying they do a good job. Cook, who has a family member who is a teacher, said he believes the district should attempt to exceed the tax cap and save teachers from potential layoffs. He believes Superintendent Diane Fox is doing a good job, but he disagrees with parts of her budget proposal, saying once teaching positions are cut, they will be hard to get back.

Instead of cutting teachers, he believes the school district should save money by sharing more services, like by combining administrative positions.

“Consolidation should happen between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid,” he said.

Since retiring, Cook has also started doing student checkups in the St. Regis Falls and Brushton-Moira school districts. He noted that those districts share a superintendent, and their schools are farther apart than Saranac Lake’s and Lake Placid’s.

No matter what kind of budget decision the Saranac Lake school board makes Wednesday, Cook said he believes it will be appropriate and logical.

“I think we have a dedicated group of people on that school board,” he said. “Whatever happens, I believe in this school system.”

FEH-BOCES meetings are held once a month in Malone.