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Schenectady school budget focuses on cuts

$9.5M gap seen; state unlikely to boost aid

Wednesday, March 13, 2013
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— Staff at the Schenectady City School District are so worried about next year’s budget that they proposed giving up a day’s pay to help.

The suggestion was one of a dozen given to the school board at Wednesday’s budget session.

Unfortunately, even if every staffer agreed to the donation, it wouldn’t help much. It would amount to about $350,000, said Kimberly Lewis, director of business and finance.

The district would be short $9.5 million if it were to continue all the programs in this year’s budget, plus the normal increases of raises, health insurance and pension payments.

Lewis said the problem wouldn’t exist if the state gave the city “reasonable aid.” She defined “reasonable” as a 15 percent increase, equating to $10.9 million. The governor has proposed about $90 million for the district in 2013-14. The district’s demand would bring that to about $100 million. The total budget in that scenario would be $165 million.

But the school board acknowledged that was unlikely.

So they began to look for more creative solutions.

One board member even brought up an idea that would be impossible to implement in the next month, by the budget deadline. But in future years it could save the district millions — if it merged with the other six school districts in the county.

“We’re not the only district in this position,” board member Ron Lindsay said, referring to the budget gap. “I think it would be nice if we were one county-wide district.”

He argued that other districts might agree to a merger to get access to Schenectady’s advanced programs.

“We happen, in this district, to have some really outstanding programs,” he said. “Maybe we offer something they can’t offer and they offer something we can’t offer.”

After the meeting, he said he didn’t seriously expect to begin merger negotiations.

“It’s just a thought,” he said, but added, “There are districts in the country that do that, and the taxes are distributed more equally.”

Superintendent Laurence Spring said he is exploring joint ventures for some school programs, including summer school. He also said the district could try to sell its programs to other districts.

He cited the International Baccalaureate program and Career Technology Education programs, which offer vocational instruction.

“There are things we can market,” he said.

The district might also want access to programs at other schools. “If we’re going to eliminate something, what can we do? If we’re not offering that, who is? Is there a different way to get it to our kids?” he asked.

Staff members had their own ideas. One of the suggestions — delivered to the district’s email account for budget ideas — was to eliminate instructional support services.

Eliminating that could save $2 million — but Spring warned that it would come with a deeper cost.

“If we cut, the need for that does not go away,” he said. “The need for us to improve our instruction does not go away.”

But, he added, he could easily come up with reasons not to cut anything.

“Every single one of the options is like vinegar in your mouth,” he said. “Everything is counter to what we know is good for kids.”

There aren’t any easy cuts left, he added.

“So we’re looking at ways to minimize that pain, that damage,” he said. “Unless something fairly significant happens in the next few days with the state budget, we’re looking at big cuts.”

 
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