Schenectady County

Jobs, Oneida lost in Schenectady school budget

At the cost of 48 positions and the closure of one middle school, the Schenectady school board final

At the cost of 48 positions and the closure of one middle school, the Schenectady school board finalized its budget Wednesday.

The board will hold a public hearing on May 2 at 7 p.m. at the high school’s Black Box Theater. But if residents want to comment on the budget before it is adopted by the board, they can speak at the April 16 meeting, at 7 p.m. at Mont Pleasant Middle School.

The district closed the last of its gap with $1 million in additional state aid, an incentive program to pay workers who agree to go on a spouse’s insurance, and a five-day cut in administrators’ work year.

The proposed budget is now $156 million, a cut of more than $5 million to meet the new state-required tax cap. For Schenectady, the cap turned out to require a slight reduction in tax levy.

The tax rate has not yet been announced. Although the tax levy is proposed to be slightly smaller than it was this year, the city’s taxable value is declining, so it will probably not translate to a tax cut. In essence, fewer people are paying taxes, so they must pay more.

Interim Superintendent John Yagielski said he regrets the depth of the cuts, which include 18 high school teachers, at least 1 pre-K teacher, two resource teachers and the chief technology officer.

“However, it does preserve the full range of programs and services so critical to the success of our students,” he said.

Other cuts include closing Oneida Middle School; cutting one period of the high school day but offering it as a before-school option to the few students who would choose to get up early; reducing the number of pre-K buildings from five to two (which would allow 407 students, down from 433); starting elementary schools an hour earlier while starting middle school an hour later; and bringing more special education students back to the district for classes.

Yagielski and school board President Cathy Lewis said the district faces more painful cuts in the next budget — unless the state starts supporting the district with far more money.

“It’s hard to say I’m disappointed when they sent us a million dollars — it sounds ridiculous,” Yagielski said. “But we’re a poor district. We’re more heavily dependent on the state than other districts are.”

And the district is running out of palatable cuts, Lewis said.

“How can we continue to have reductions, year after year?” she said. “How many more schools can we close?”

Yagielski added, “I’m not sure where I’d start looking next year.”

There are two possible savings in the works for the next year’s budget. The state Education Department has permission to return most of the $3.8 million transportation aid it took back from Schenectady after the district made a technical error in a legal ad. That won’t happen quickly enough to be included in the 2012-2013 budget, Yagielski said.

The district must appeal to the Education Department to get the money back. It’s not yet clear how or when the department will hear the appeal or how long it will take to make a decision once the appeal is made, Yagielski said.

“This isn’t going to help our budget now,” he said. “But it was a pleasant surprise.”

Also, the district may be able to save money by moving retirees to a cheaper, federally funded health insurance plan.

But Yagielski said the move of more than 400 retirees could kill the district’s self-funded plan because so few retirees would be left in it. Retirees can’t move to the cheaper plan, Medicare Advantage, until they turn 65.

He’s studying the impact on that plan and the potential savings, he said, but predicted the analysis won’t be done in time for the 2012-2013 budget.

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