Schenectady County

Schenectady schools may be facing big cuts

As many as 167 Schenectady City School District positions could be lost and all athletic funding eli

As many as 167 Schenectady City School District positions could be lost and all athletic funding eliminated next year under a worst-case “doomsday” budget.

Superintendent Eric Ely told the Board of Education Wednesday that a lot of factors are still in flux, such as how much aid the district will receive in the state budget and how much federal stimulus package money would replace any aid cuts.

“It may not turn out to be reality once the rest of the picture is known,” he said.

Ely said he assumed that Gov. David Paterson’s proposed deficit reduction aid cut would go away because of the federal stimulus money.

However, if it does not, the district has a budget gap of $14.6 million just to maintain existing programs.

Ely broke down the cuts into tiers 1, 2 and 3, with 3 being the most severe. Depending on how much aid is restored in the budget, he would restore the cuts made in Tier 3 first.

Tier 1 would result in eliminating five administrative jobs, 14 elementary school teacher positions, 20 secondary level teacher jobs, 30 paraprofessional jobs and four secretaries’ positions. In addition, Ely would reorganize the business office to cut three positions as well as eliminate two positions handling school climate initiatives, seven teachers on special assignment and a technology position.

Ely did not get more specific because he has not yet talked to the people involved.

All of these initiatives would eliminate almost half of that $14.6 million gap to get to $7.7 million. Ely said this would result in a tax rate increase of 15.5 percent — too high, so he proceeded to Tier 2 cuts.

In Tier 2, he would cut one-third of athletic funding, shut down the swimming pool and eliminate a total of 31 more instructional and administrative positions.

That would cut another $2.75 million out of the budget — still leaving a $4.93 million gap.

Tier 3 cuts would eliminate the rest of the athletic program, as well as 38 additional middle and high school teachers and 10 paraprofessionals. This would increase class sizes to 30 or 32 students, which is the maximum.

There would still be a $2 million budget gap and an increase in the tax rate of 4 percent.

Ely said about half of the positions can be eliminated by attrition through people who have already left or who are retiring.

“This will critically damage what we’re able to offer kids,” he said.

Board member Linda Bellick said the city’s state legislators need to hear this presentation.

“They need to be yelling and screaming and fighting for us,” she said.

Board member Gary Farkas said he did not support elimination of sports and said the district should look at other extracurricular activities.

Ely said the district spends about $750,000 on athletics. More than two-thirds of that cost is for transportation. This is more than any other extracurricular activity.

A pay-for-play system is popular in other districts, but Ely said he would not recommend that here since Schenectady has a high poverty rate.

Board President Jeff Janiszewski said he believes a 4 percent tax increase is too much for this community to bear.

Ely said the district is also looking at ways to save money on health insurance. Ideas being discussed are switching retirees over to the Medicare advantage health plan and purchasing prescription drugs from Canada, similar to what Schenectady County is offering to its employees.

Ely hopes to have a better budget picture at the board’s next study session, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday at Mont Pleasant Middle School.

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