Schenectady County

Superintendent says city schools shortchanged

Inequitable distribution of education aid is hindering progress at improving Schenectady schools, sa

Inequitable distribution of education aid is hindering progress at improving Schenectady schools, says the district’s top official.

“We need greater equity in the division of the dollars,” Superintendent John Yagielski said Wednesday evening during a forum at the Hamilton Hill Arts Center. “The way that’s been working recently has been particularly difficult for urban districts.”

About a dozen people attended the forum, which was sponsored by the Alliance for Quality Education and New York Communities for Change.

Yagielski said wealthier communities are getting a bigger share of the pie compared with Schenectady, which is poor in both property wealth and income and has high-needs students.

Districts like Schenectady were supposed to see increased funding as part of the 2007 settlement of a lawsuit by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which found that schools were being underfunded. Districts saw sharply increased aid in 2007.

With the onset of the state’s fiscal woes, however, the funding was pared back. If the state was funding what was promised under the original CFE formula, Schenectady would have received more than $9 million in additional aid this school year. Instead, it cut $7.1 million from its budget.

Yagielski said the district cut some services and transportation, forcing students to go back to their neighborhood schools. It wanted to protect as many core programs as possible.

Besides state aid, the other main source of revenue is local taxpayers, buy Yagielski said they are tapped out.

Pam Swanigan, who is looking to start a charter school in the Schenectady area, said the percentage of African-American students who graduate from Schenectady High School is very poor. The district must do more to address the achievement of minority students and that should include discussing with the teachers union about extending the school day.

But high school history teacher Mike Silvestri said teachers cannot be expected to work longer hours for less pay. “Your best teachers could possibly look at other school districts,” he said.

Yagielski said it comes down to reading. Too many students enter middle and high school unable to read at a level necessary to do the work. If he had more resources, he said he would focus more on reading, especially in early grades.

Parent Iris Williams said the length of time spent in school is less important to her than quality of instruction.

Some who attended the meeting expressed support for extending the so-called “millionaire’s tax” surcharge for people making more than $250,000.

However, the political will doesn’t exist right now, according to Silvestri, who is also political action committee chairman for the Schenectady Federation of Teachers.

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