Schenectady school district projects $10 million deficit

Spring: Cuts likely to be needed to fill $10M gap

Thursday, January 9, 2014
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— It’s school budget time again, and the news from the Schenectady City School District is the same as last year: bad.

The district is projecting a $10 million budget gap, Superintendent Laurence Spring said, but with a total budget of $192 million, there’s no reason to panic — $10 million can be cut from somewhere.

“But I don’t think any of the places it could come from are easy choices,” he said.

By the numbers

A look at budget figures for the Schenectady City School District

Health insurance: 8 percent increase

Teacher retirement: 1.5 percent increase

Employee retirement: 0.8 percent increase

BOCES, facilities, special education, transportation and debt service: 2 percent to 8 percent increase

Total for all expenses: $6.8 million increase

Revenue: $3.4 million decrease

Total budget gap: $10.2 million

Source: Schenectady City School District

The district will have to cut programs that “have stood the test of time,” he said.

“Some things may have to be eliminated completely. Some things may have to be reduced,” he said.

School officials say they want to spread the pain equally, but they are also evaluating programs for their effectiveness, he said. He’s also hoping the gap turns out to be smaller than he’s predicting now.

“We begin with some conservative estimates,” he said, noting the district doesn’t yet know exactly how much it will pay for health insurance, among other uncertainties.

“Our biggest variable is state aid,” he added.

The district is assuming a 2 percent increase, but even if the district were to get a 10 percent increase, it wouldn’t fill the gap. Ten percent would amount to a $6 million to $7 million increase, Spring said.

He wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo to vastly increase Schenectady’s aid, based on the state aid formula, which calls for the district to get $62 million more than it gets now.

“He really should be thinking of increasing aid to Schenectady by 20 percent a year for the next three years,” Spring said.

The district has no savings left to fill the gap and no hope of getting its refunded transportation aid in time for the 2014-15 budget, Spring said. The $3.8 million in transportation aid will be returned to the district in seven to 10 years, Spring said.

State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, fought hard to get that aid returned to Schenectady after it was taken away because the district made a small technical error. Governors vetoed the refund bill repeatedly before Cuomo finally signed it last year, but the district must wait in line behind many other districts that are owed refunds.

Spring has some hope for savings in health insurance. He said the district’s insurance consultants are considering a Canadian prescription drug plan, which is much cheaper, as well as looking at other ways to save.

“Health insurance is definitely an area where we said we need to look at reducing our expenses,” he said.

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January 9, 2014
8:59 p.m.
birmy says...

Health insurance cost $2,000 for a family plan in 1991. It now costs $15,000-$16,000. Say what you want about teacher salaries but health insurance costs have been and continue to be outrageous. 8% a year increase?

I don't understand why small school districts are able to survive and many large districts have massive deficits. Maybe it is simply harder to manage a large ship and especially one with a lot of needy kids? With all the taxes homeowners pay in Schenectady it is a shame the district still does not have enough money.

January 10, 2014
8:26 a.m.
gina99 says...

What have you been doing? Instead of wishing for more aid, start cutting useless administrators and reorganizing the district into all K-8 neighborhood schools. The Democrats want to put Board member Ed Kosiur back on the Council? Give us a break. City residents cannot afford another double digit increase in taxes after the 6% County increase last year.

January 10, 2014
8:41 a.m.
tonijean613 says...

When it comes to health care expenses, Mr. Spring needs educate the community and users. Is this a self funded system? Is all about cost of premiums? Who pays what exactly? Then, he needs to identify who the biggest users are- and what is causing them to use more services- and then educate this population on reducing their use. Are employees bringing their children to the extremely expensive ER instead of Urgent Care for an ear infection? Are they themselves going to a specialist too frequently for routine care like checking blood pressure? Can people increase their time between visits by 1 week without effecting their health? Are the people effecting the cost of premiums smokers? Are the doctors themselves part of the problem by forcing patients to return for an additional visit to obtain test results when the doctor should call patient instead of requiring a second visit? Are they educated on healthy eating habits?

January 10, 2014
4:50 p.m.
MDogsMom says...

Wages for the private sector are going down and retirement checks like social security aren't going up either. The school district will have to accept the fact that Schenectady residents simply can NOT afford to pay more taxes!

January 10, 2014
5:56 p.m.
mkuban says...

The days of fully funding employee insurance are over. Schenectady needs to follow the private sector and move to a high deductible insurance plan. They also need to start charging for spouses who decline insurance through their own employer and go on the districts insurance because it is better or cheaper.
I can't afford any more than I am paying now.

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