Schenectady school budget set at $159M
Art, music programs spared worst cuts
Updated 7:49 a.m.
SCHENECTADY Taxes would increase by about $22 for the typical Schenectady homeowner under a nearly $159.3 million budget adopted Wednesday by the Schenectady City School District Board of Education.
The spending plan increases the property tax levy by 1 percent, which means a homeowner with an average assessment of $101,000 would see their school taxes increase to nearly $2,200 annually. Voters will get a chance to decide on May 21. The budget is increasing $3.1 million and 2 percent from the current year
The board decided not to use any of the $3.8 million in delayed transportation aid the district officials learned it would be receiving from the state, because it doesn’t know when it will get the money.
However, Superintendent Laurence Spring presented the board some better revenue numbers. The district recently learned that it will receive about $120,000 for a career and technical program grant, which school officials thought would lapse at the end of this year.
This allowed him to restore some programs that were important to the board. “We’ve tried to strike a balance,” he said.
Among the changes are incorporating band, orchestra, chorus and studio in art into the middle school day through a split lunch period in the middle of the day. That time can also be used for academic intervention.
Kindergarten art and music has been restored to its current level of 60 minutes per week for each subject.
Also, one of the unions has offered to make concessions on health care to save about $100,000. Exactly how that will be done hasn’t been worked out yet, according to Spring. He did not cite which union it was.
The district initially faced a $9.3 million budget gap. Spring proposed making $6.7 million worth of reductions and tapping $2 million in surplus. Along with the 1 percent increase in the tax levy, it is enough to close the gap.
There still will be 108 full-time equivalent positions lost under this budget, including 16 elementary school teachers. Class size will increase.
Other major components of the budget include closing the pre-K and kindergarten Blodgett school, shifting the middle school schedule from an eight-period day to one with seven periods and reducing the “Zero Period” before school offerings at the high school.
The district is adding psychologists, social workers and behavior and reading specialists.
Speakers urged the board not to cut Joel Servant, the high school band teacher who is likely to lose his job because he was one of the last music staff hired.
Resident Jackie Barkenhagen, a member of the Friends of Music, said Servant put together the marching band and the music program has been a shining star for the district.
“We can’t boast about our graduation rate. We can’t talk about the fantastic test scores that our students get. What we can talk about is the fantastic programs we have, the teachers we have and the dedication they bring to this district,” she said. No action was taken to protect Servant’s position.
Steve Lownsbury, the parent of an autistic child, expressed concern about cutting 76 paraprofessionals who work with special education students.
Spring said the budget would reduce the paraprofessional staff by one third but still retain close to 200.
Board member Andrew Chestnut proposed a successful amendment to restore two elementary librarian positions by tapping some more of the surplus and the additional revenue that the district received. It did not affect the tax levy.
School board member Ron Lindsay urged the board to make a long-term financial plan to prepare for the difficult future.
President Cathy Lewis agreed that the district is approaching its own “fiscal cliff.”
“I’m afraid it might be sooner rather than later,” she said.