Schenectady school budget plan adds $480,000
SCHENECTADY The Schenectady City School District will put a revised $160,624,500 budget plan before voters on June 16 — $480,000 more than the spending plan defeated at the polls last week.
The Board of Education on Thursday voted to add money to the budget for six elementary librarian positions, which had been cut in the original spending proposal. Librarians and other residents had spoken out in opposition to the idea at a public hearing on the original budget plan.
The new budget would increase the tax levy by 5.8 percent, compared to 4.8 percent. If residents defeat this budget, the district by state law has to go to a contingency budget. By the state formula, the district’s contingency budget would be $165.5 million and carry a 15.8 percent tax levy increase.
The board had the option of adopting a contingency budget or trying a second vote. State law limits the contingency budget to 120 percent of the inflation rate — 4 percent in this case — minus expenses such as student supplies, community use of buildings and grounds, certain equipment purchases and certain salary increases.
School Attorney Shari Greenleaf said the district would have no flexibility in setting the contingency budget, based on a recent March ruling from the state education commissioner: “That’s the formula you have to use.”
President Jeff Janiszewski is pessimistic about the budget’s chances, no matter what the district does.
“I think we’re going to be defeated again and end up with a contingency budget and a 15 percent tax increase,” he said.
No board member favored going directly to a contingency budget, and none wanted to make any more cuts to the budget.
“There are people on fixed incomes who just can’t afford that, but on the other hand, I don’t know what else we can do,” said board member Linda Bellick.
In addition, adopting a contingency budget would mean that the district would be required under state law to charge nonprofit groups for use of its school facilities outside of school hours.
“The community is suffering enough. These organizations can’t come up with these funds,” said board member Lisa Russo.
The board did not want to cut athletics or more teaching positions. It turned its attention to restoring some positions that people believed may have contributed to the budget defeat.
Board member Maxine Brisport said she had gotten a lot of feedback from people upset about the potential loss of the elementary librarians. Ely had proposed to replace those positions with literacy teachers who would work out of the library but would not be librarians.
Bellick pushed for restoring the district’s director of student wellness position, which handles supervision of athletics, physical education and health curriculum. The current holder of that position is retiring at the end of the year, and that is why Ely had suggested it as a cut.
Bellick worried that it would be too much responsibility for one person, which had been the case when one person had all of those duties before.
Janiszewski worried how it would look adding an administrative position back to the budget.
Vice President John Mitchell suggested making additional cuts or perhaps using more of the district’s fund balance, or surplus, to lower the tax levy increase. He worried how it would look going out with a revised budget that is higher.
“Restoring these things that we worked so hard to cut — even though it was extremely painful — I feel is a loser,” he said.
Using more of the district’s surplus to pay for these restorations was also suggested. The district is already tapping $3 million, and Janiszewski said he was concerned about using more.
The district must schedule a public hearing on the budget no later than June 9. However, Janiszewski noted that under state statute, the board cannot change the budget so close to the election, so whatever the public says at the hearing will have no impact on the budget plan put before voters June 16.