Spring: ‘Nothing sacred’ in school budget

District might ignore some mandates, slash kindergarten

Saturday, March 22, 2014
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— A first draft of the Schenectady schools $159 million budget will be ready by Wednesday, district Superintendent Laurence Spring said.

The document won’t be pretty — but it will give residents a look at the grim cuts being seriously considered.

“I don’t think it’s possible to create a budget, a balanced budget, that meets the [state Education Department] requirements,” Spring said.

He plans to obey the laws, such as the one specifying 120 minutes of physical education each week in elementary school.

But regulations for seat time in technology, home and careers, and other subjects, could be ignored.

Schenectady budget

View the first draft of the Schenectady budget.

If he doesn’t meet every requirement, Spring said, the Board of Regents could withhold state aid.

But Spring doesn’t think that will happen — and neither does Regent James Dawson.

“So far as I know, and I’ve been on the board 21 years now, we have never withheld state aid from any district for the type of infractions you’re describing,” Dawson said. “And I think it would be unlikely.”

No decisions have been made yet on which, if any, regulations to skip.

Residents will have a chance to respond to Spring’s proposal at Wednesday’s meeting, as well as on April 2, before the board meets in a special Saturday session on April 5 to hash out the final budget.

The board hopes to adopt the budget on April 9. A public vote on the plan is scheduled for May 20.

Many residents, teachers and administrators have already gotten a glimpse of the tough choices being considered. In budget workshops held throughout the city, Spring asked attendees to prioritize cuts listed in a 12-page booklet, but he said he didn’t get any consensus on cuts.

There was, however, consensus on what not to cut: kindergarten.

“No one thinks that eliminating kindergarten should be on the table,” Spring said. “But there are people, in comparison to other things, who think reducing kindergarten could be necessary.”

The booklet included the options of eliminating kindergarten or reducing it to half-day. Spring doesn’t want to do that, saying early education is crucial.

But he used that option to illustrate how dire the situation is this year.

Although the board will be making decisions quickly — over the course of two weeks — Spring said his budget booklet is garnering more public input than the normal process.

“I think this represents an unprecedented level of public engagement and openness in the budgeting process,” he said. “We’ve tried to make a pretty dramatic change.”

Because so many proposals are in the booklet, it’s not clear which ones are front-runners. Usually, opposition coalesces when a cut makes it into an official budget proposal.

Spring said teachers have met with him to argue against some items in the budget booklet, but he’s told them he must consider everything.

“If we’re going to talk about reducing kindergarten, nothing is sacred,” he said.

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