$70 million project

Officials: Schenectady school changes likely won't raise local taxes

Other funding would let taxpayers off hook for $70 million project

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
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$70 million project

Mont Pleasant Middle School is seen on Dec. 4.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Mont Pleasant Middle School is seen on Dec. 4.

— The work to turn Oneida, Mont Pleasant and Central Park into middle schools for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades won’t raise local taxes a cent, school officials said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

Using two different state funding sources, the city school district could afford a $70 million project without local money. That would cover all of Phase I and additional work that would have been in Phase II, Superintendent Laurence Spring said.

The district would normally have to pay up to 5 percent of the project, with the state covering the rest. But in Schenectady’s case, another state funding source would cover that local share, Spring said.

Online extra

To view preliminary design plans, click HERE.

The public will be asked to vote on the expenditure on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Even though the project won’t cost the district more, a “yes” vote would authorize the district to move forward with its plan to convert all schools to K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

There has been significant opposition to the plan from those who want to keep at least some K-8 buildings in the district. They said they wanted the district to instead spend money on renovating and expanding elementary schools to add more K-8s, with the goal of either substantially reducing the Mont Pleasant Middle School population or eliminating the middle school program altogether.

But that opposition has quieted recently, and residents have stopped coming to school board meetings to argue against the middle school model.

School board members debated the issue at length before deciding that K-8 buildings would not be truly equal because some would be too small for traditional advanced-placement classes. Spring also argued that three smaller middle schools would be far better than the one large middle school in place now.

If the referendum passes, the three middle schools would open as schools for grades sixth through eight in September 2016.

The project also includes adding a second-story wing to Howe Elementary School, giving the district four much-needed classrooms. This will be crucial because the district plans to close Elmer Elementary School in September 2016 as well and needs classroom space elsewhere for all of those children.

The project would add support spaces at Van Corlaer Elementary School as well. The school has squeezed extra classrooms out of every nook and cranny. The award-winning ESL program is run in a former industrial closet, among other inventive uses of space.

School officials noted that those spaces have poor lighting and ventilation. They plan to turn the stage area in the gym into three rooms, eliminate storage rooms in favor of classrooms and renovate a kitchen into a room.

School board member Ron Lindsay said he wasn’t pleased by the proposal, particularly since the building principal hadn’t seen it yet.

He said the school needed its stage. Teachers have also complained about the loss of storage space — the building is so cramped that the balcony overlooking the stage has been used for storage.

The design team promised to show their plans to the building leaders at each school and emphasized that they were preliminary sketches.

But they won’t be preliminary for long. On Dec. 18, the board will vote on the project scope and budget. On Jan. 8, the board will vote on the resolutions needed to hold the referendum.

If either of those deadlines is missed, the referendum might be delayed.

Board President Cathy Lewis said the timing was so tight that the board couldn’t afford even a week’s delay between now and Jan. 8.

“We can’t have any snow days,” she said. “I’m quite serious. We cannot have a snow day the 18th.”

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December 4, 2013
11:23 p.m.
David78 says...

Absolutely ridiculous! This district does not plan and is not proactive - everything is reactive! The bottom line is 4 years ago they spent a great deal of money transforming buildings into K-8 and those buildings are working well. Pick a system and stick with it! There's no such thing as equality in education - or in life for that matter! Even if all the buildings were K-5 there still would not be equality and anyone who tells you differently has never been to more than one school anywhere in this country .

Also, "The timing is so tight that they cannot even afford a week" - are you kidding me? Does anyone else see a major RED FLAG here! Seriously - the superintendent and school board need to get it together!

December 5, 2013
9:08 a.m.
schdyres1 says...

David78: The fact that there has been little, or no equity for low-wealth, high need school district students is a problem all over the country, as it is true in the SCSD. This has been well-documented.
Contrary to your statement that the K-8 buildings are working well, Zoller and Paige were transformed from very successful K-5 programs. They do not have the number of foreign language choices, advanced subjects, an orchestra, a vice-principal at least half-time, and many of the other advantages of the other 2 K-8 buildings. That is partially due to space constraints. THAT is inequitable!
Making more buildings K-8 will further dilute the 6-8 program at more schools, not improve education for this age-group of children.

December 5, 2013
9:48 p.m.
David78 says...

I think you would be hard pressed to find any two schools in this country that are the same and we have to stop thinking of that as a bad thing. Each school is a community - made up of unique individuals, families, staff, and other stakeholders. There is nothing wrong with diversity. The districts legal responsibility is to provide a compulsory education to students. There's nothing wrong with variety of how that is offered between various schools.

We have to stop pretending that these changes are going to make our schools equitable and that these changes will somehow better these schools. If you think the current K-5 buildings are "equitable", you are mistaken. For starters, take a look at facilities. We have some with 2 gyms, 1 gym, small cafeterias, large cafeterias, small classrooms, large classrooms, old buildings with heating problems and many other differences. You also have various numbers of students in each building. You also have a wide variety in numbers and experience of staff. You also have a wide variety of programs offered. Some schools have Teaching and Learning coaches, behavioral specialists, resource teachers, guidance counselor, full time library services and other professionals that work within the school.

If you think these changes aren't going to affect taxpayers, you're wrong. Yes, the state may initially spend the money to upgrade and fix in a capital project. However - what about long term costs? These buildings will have to be operated and maintained - and that will cost money, especially if you're adding buildings. Don't get me wrong - Schenectady City School District does indeed need to upgrade its facilities. But how about a long term plan that doesn't hinge on a meeting December 18. Snowfall should not determine a districts future. The superintendent and school board need to really come up with a solid plan before even considering moving forward.

And, before they make all these changes, let's look at scheduling of staff and placement of students. Is there a way to make it more "equitable" with changes in the way staff are scheduled and where students are placed? Not all students need to be a in a school where AP classes and/or multiple languages are offered.

The district changed Zoller and Paige, yes. Now give it time to work. Anytime a large scale change is made there are going to be adjustments and growing pains. Putting 8th graders in a school with Kindergarten is not necessarily a bad thing. When this was done at Central Park there was initially a great deal of resistance, however most families would now tell you what a wonderful experience this has been for their children.

December 5, 2013
9:49 p.m.
David78 says...

Furthermore, Schdyres1 - you need to check your facts. The assignment of a vice principal depends on the number of enrolled students in a school. There certainly IS an orchestra at both of these schools. And you won't solve space constraints by changing the make up of buildings - only shift the problem from one building to the next. For any credible data you can show me to support the K-5/6-8 make up, I can show you an equal number in favor of the K-8 makeup. How's the for equity!

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