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Swartz: Budget shortfall to mean program trims in Scotia-Glenville schools

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
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— Scotia-Glenville Central School District Superintendent Susan Swartz said she will cut a little bit of everything but not gut entire programs to close a budget gap of more than $1 million.

“My strategy, as it has always been, is to try to take something from everywhere and spread that pain,” she said. “I’m trying to maintain the broadest, deepest program that we can obtain for kids.”

The current year’s budget is $47.8 million. The district’s expenses for 2013-2014 are increasing to $49.9 million, but revenues would only increase by a little more than $1 million if district officials increase the tax levy to the state-imposed cap, which is calculated at 4.46 percent for the coming year. There is a gap of a little less than $1.3 million between projected revenues and expenditures.

Everything is on the table, including cutting administrators, teachers, teaching assistants, support staff, electives, athletics, late bus runs and Advanced Placement courses, according to Swartz. She said she believes the district would be able to offer some variety in programs such as family and consumer science, technology, business and Advanced Placement classes, but some electives might not survive.

She said she does not believe the district’s budgets have been out of control. She presented a chart showing that the tax levy increase has been under 2 percent in every year but one from 2007 to 2012; it was 3.3 percent in the 2008-09 year.

Swartz said the aid to school districts is not being cut as much in Gap Elimination Adjustment, but they are still getting less aid than they should have been getting. Since the start of the fiscal crisis, that shortfall has been more than $3 million, according to Swartz.

At the same time, there hasn’t been any meaningful relief from state mandates, she said. The governor has proposed giving school districts the option of locking in a long-term pension contribution rate. However, that proposal has not been enacted. He also proposed letting districts obtain waivers from state special education requirements that exceed the federal requirements.

But parents would have the option of challenging that and the state education commissioner would have to rule on the matter. Swartz said that could be a slow process.

The other area where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed relief is in eliminating by April 2014 the number of reports that school districts must file with the state — now more than 140 annually — unless the Mandate Relief Council says otherwise. These reports include information about complying with civil rights laws and the amount of violent incidents that take place in school.

“I wonder if people are really going to be willing to let that go,” she said.

The Board of Education approved sending a resolution to Cuomo requesting that he “take immediate action to reduce the Gap Elimination Adjustment, reform the Triborough Amendment and develop meaningful mandate relief as submitted.”

It also endorsed Swartz’s approach of cutting a little bit from everything.

Board member Andy Crapo suggested more use of online technology to offer electives across multiple districts. Swartz said one issue with that idea is the teachers union could file a grievance if somebody from Mohonasen, for example, taught a course offered through distance learning, in effect taking work away from a Scotia-Glenville teacher.

Board Vice President Gary Normington suggested looking at bus routes, and possibly transporting fewer students. The state requires that districts bus only elementary students who live farther than two miles from school and secondary students who live farther than three miles. The district buses elementary students who live farther than one mile and secondary students who live farther than two miles.

Board President Pamela Carbone did not like that idea, saying it’s a safety issue with no sidewalks and narrow roads, especially during bad weather.

Parent Michelle Kraines expressed concern that her eighth-grade student will not have the same options as her graduating senior.

“Here we are again — making cuts. What’s our long-term plan to sustain a quality education?” she asked.

Swartz said she didn’t have any easy answers because there are many forces outside her control.

The board will continue its budgets discussions March 25 and April 15, both at 7 p.m. at Scotia-Glenville Middle School.

 
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comments

March 13, 2013
11:26 a.m.
comanche says...

How about not taking away from the students and get serious? This school was approached last year to look into Medicare Advantage Plans for their retirees, a proven savings program that Schenectady County has embraced. They chose not to even attend informational meetings in the county.

The old ways of saving money do not work.

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