Governor’s aid cuts would hit schools hard, superintendents say

The Schenectady City School District would be faced with an 11 percent tax rate increase to maintain

The Schenectady City School District would be faced with an 11 percent tax rate increase to maintain its existing programs if aid cuts proposed by Gov. David Paterson become reality, according to Superintendent Eric Ely.

Schenectady would lose about $5.5 million in aid, going from $98.3 million in the 2009-’10 school year to $92.75 million.

The governor is proposing $1.1 billion in education aid cuts as part of his effort to close an estimated $7.4 billion budget deficit. Lower-wealth districts would be cut less than other districts under the proposal. Districts statewide have more than $1.5 billion in reserve funds they can use to offset these cuts, according to Paterson.

Ely said maintaining the existing programs would cost roughly $6 million more with contractually mandated salary and benefit increases. Combined with the governor’s proposed aid cut, the district would have to reduce spending by about $11.5 million to achieve a zero tax rate increase.

“We’re going to try to avoid doing things that impact the classroom, class sizes,” he said.

One option is tapping into the district’s fund balance, or surplus. Ely estimates that the district will have about $6.5 million at the end of the fiscal year.

Ely said he would like to avoid layoffs as much as possible but 70 percent of the budget is personnel costs.

“We certainly will look at positions. We evaluate every position when and if it becomes available,” he said.

Shenendehowa, a suburban district, would lose $4.4 million.

Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said in a statement that the reduction would have a “devastating” effect on programs and services. “This loss in aid is compounded with the fact that the district is also faced with a mandated increase in retirement costs of more than $2 million,” he said. “This means that we have a $6 million gap in our budget, yet we are still compelled to meet contractual agreements and cost adjustments.”

Greater Amsterdam Superintendent Thomas Perillo said the reduction of about $1 million in aid would be very difficult for his school district. “We were hoping that the funding would stay, at a minimum, flat,” he said.

He said he hoped the Legislature would restore some of the cuts and it is too early to discuss program cuts.

Paterson also pointed out that 2010-11 school aid, amounting to $20.5 billion, is still 42 percent more than the aid amounts in 2003-04.

The governor also seeks to repeal the Wicks Law, which requires school districts to seek separate bids for plumbing, heating and electrical components of construction projects exceeding a certain amount.

This part of the proposal drew praise from the New York State School Boards Association. Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said the impact of the budget will vary widely by district. “Those that are highly dependent on state aid, with limited reserves and little room to cut any further, are the most vulnerable. Their programs will be jeopardized.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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