FDR School closing expected in Schenectady

Savings would allow better arts, music offerings

Thursday, April 11, 2013
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— The city’s smallest elementary unit, Franklin D. Roosevelt School, may be closed in favor of restoring art and music classes.

Superintendent Laurence Spring explained the closure after The Gazette’s deadline at Wednesday’s school board meeting. Board members contacted Thursday said they generally supported the idea.

“We never like to close a school, but that is a very small school,” said board member Cheryl Nechamen, who said she would reluctantly vote for closure.

At a glance

View the Schenectady City School District's budget presentation HERE.

Board member Andrew Chestnut said more firmly that he supported closure.

“I don’t think it’s about buildings, I think it’s about education,” he said. “I think that if we can fit the program in the other buildings, that works fine for me.”

School board Vice President Ann Reilly added that she didn’t see any alternatives.

“I think we have to do it,” she said. “It’s a small school. I hate to do it to those families.”

The city leased the former St. Adalbert’s parish school building in 2008 to open FDR; current enrollment there is about 150. Closing the school would save $233,000, allowing the district to eliminate an administrator, a custodian, a cleaner, a secretary and a part-time nurse.

It would also put the district over the amount that it had to cut to get its 2013-2014 budget in the black. The district has now cut $300,000 more than absolutely necessary — and board members are eager to undo some cuts.

They’re focusing on the arts.

Spring had initially proposed reducing elementary school art and music classes to 30 minutes a week, down from 40 minutes twice a week. That would save $1.5 million. After opposition from the board, he proposed cutting classes to 40 minutes, once a week, at a savings of $1.1 million. But the idea still received opposition.

So he proposed Wednesday that the board increase the tax levy by 1 percent to keep the elementary art and music classes at their current levels. Kindergarten art and music would be eliminated, at a savings of $620,000. Eight teachers and librarians would be cut.

He also proposed changes to the middle school, creating a seven-period day but not reducing the school day as a whole. The district would save $641,000 by cutting nine teachers, who would not be needed because the district would only have to staff seven periods. Each class would be a few minutes longer, giving teachers an additional 35 minutes per class each week.

But the loss of one period would leave students without time for more than one music class. They would have to choose between general music, chorus, or band. Seven students came to Wednesday’s meeting to object to the change.

Board members were split on whether they would use the $300,000 to “buy back” some of the kindergarten art and music, or some of the middle school music.

Nechamen said she wanted to focus on the middle school.

“It seems to me, at the moment, that the bulk of the cuts are hitting the middle school,” she said. “Clearly we can’t restore all of it, but as much as we could, I’d like to restore it.”

Reilly agreed, but said it would be difficult to restore any music cuts at the middle school without restoring the entire $641,000.

“We were hoping to do the middle school. It makes it a little more complicated,” she said. “We’re trying to see if there’s something we can do.”

Chestnut said he would prefer to focus on the kindergartners.

“I think connecting kids with their education happens easiest the younger they are,” he said.

He proposed eliminating all magnet school funding — the magnets get a slight amount of additional funding — and increasing the tax levy by 1.5 percent to restore as much as possible of the kindergarten art and music curriculum.

“The younger ages, to me, is something that concerns me more,” he said.

But Nechamen said she couldn’t support a 1.5 percent tax levy increase.

“We’re really reluctant to go for more than the 1 percent hike,” she said.

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April 12, 2013
7:04 a.m.
rjk1915 says...

Maybe part of the problem is trying to teach the unteachable .

April 12, 2013
7:50 a.m.
tgeorge12345 says...

I disagree with the above comment. There are no unteachable children. A teacher has to take the time to find a way to get to the child. There are many ways of reaching children. Some teachers are motivated only to get a paycheck not to teach. How do I know/ I was a teacher for 37 years and welcomed many of the "unteachables" into my classroom. Everyone learns at his or her own speed.

April 12, 2013
9:17 a.m.
schdyres1 says...

It is long past the time to take a good look at Magnet School funding, as Mr. Chestnut suggests.
The grant money for this program was eliminated years ago. Thus, money that could be used for students in the District's other schools, is instead subsidizing this program.
The District has never been forthcoming about exactly how much more money is spent on the magnet schools. Transparency would go a long way in discussing this issue with the financial facts finally being divulged.
All Board members and Superintendent Spring should seriously look into this, before any cuts are made.
As someone once noted in a letter to the Gazette, the Magnet Schools in Schenectady have become more like elite schools. CPIMS serves a disproportionate number of 12308 and 12309 students. Certainly not the intent of "Magnet" Schools as they were designed originally.

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