Schenectady County

Residents blast board on cuts

Residents continued to voice strong opposition Tuesday to the Duanesburg Board of Education’s decisi

Residents continued to voice strong opposition Tuesday to the Duanesburg Board of Education’s decision to cut the New Visions program from the school district’s 2008-2009 budget proposal.

Some speaking at the budget hearing said they voted against the budget because they felt it was cutting valuable programs in favor of funding less effective choices. Several residents criticized the district’s decision to include Spanish language teaching at the elementary school level while cutting off funding for New Visions, a program through the Capital District BOCES that allowed a select group of students to gain workplace experience in journalism, law and health.

“That’s what we’re saying,” said Darlene Pettit. “We didn’t like your changes.”

Kara Durante, one of a dozen students accepted into New Visions before it was cut, told the board she was left without an option without the program, because the district doesn’t offer classes with an emphasis on medicine. She said the students had academically earned the right to participate in New Visions, instead of the study hall sessions they will likely face in its absence.

“Twelve of us wanted to go above and beyond four study halls a day,” she said.

Others argued against reducing the Middle School guidance counselor position to part-time, shaving $14,000 from the new budget proposal. Some argued the district had erred in creating a full-time teacher’s position in the elementary school instead of keeping the guidance counselor.

Last month, board members unanimously supported a decision to send the budget back to voters after trimming $51,000. The cuts dropped the proposed tax rate increase from 3.98 percent to 3.2 percent.

Among their cuts, board members substantially reduced the district’s field trip budget, trimmed 13 club adviser positions, and lowered teacher conference allotments. They also trimmed one of two late-afternoon buses, travel for sports team scrimmages and eliminated an unfilled boy’s volleyball coach position.

Board members didn’t consider a restoration of New Visions because the cost of out-of-district programs were already $150,000 over budget. Board Vice President James Breitenstein said the public had plenty of opportunity to protest the change during the initial budget discussions six months ago.

“We started talking about the budget in January,” he said. “What should we do in February, March and April to get people involved?”

More than three dozen residents turned out Tuesday, when district officials outlined the details of the new budget proposal. The budget hearing was conducted at 9 p.m. and after more than an hour of student presentations.

Residents rejected the district’s initial $14.8 million spending proposal 312-316. The budget was the only one defeated among Schenectady County districts this year and the first rejected by Duanesburg voters since 2000.

If the budget fails a second time, the district will be forced to accept contingency spending, which would trim $140,000, in addition to the cuts already outlined. School officials have contended these cuts would devastate the district.

The budget will go back before voters on June 17. President Raymond Hawes said the board decided to make further cuts rather than gamble with sending the same budget to the public.

“Because if you take that gamble and lose, you lose all of the money,” he said.

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