Schenectady County

Schenectady school district seeks reading volunteers

Volunteers may have to fill in for reading specialists next year because the Schenectady City School

Volunteers may have to fill in for reading specialists next year because the Schenectady City School District can’t afford to hire enough people to teach children who don’t read well.

Schenectady would have to come up with another $1.44 million to hire enough reading specialists for the entire district, Superintendent Laurence Spring said.

Spring said the district needs 74 reading specialists to diagnose and treat the many reading problems among the 6,000 students who read well below grade level. But the district can only afford 56 specialists — and most can only be hired if the district instead lays off 115 aides. That leaves the district with 18 fewer specialists than it needs.

So the district is putting out the call to volunteers.

School board President Cathy Lewis said she’s working on ways to organize reading volunteers so they are more effective. They might do more than simply read to children or listen to them read.

Teachers are now asking parents to encourage their children to think about what they’re reading by asking them to predict what will happen next or explain why characters took a specific action.

Lewis said she’s not yet sure what volunteers would be asked to do, but there would be a structured plan, “an approach that has them working with us, in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

She added that she would not ask taxpayers to pay for the additional reading specialists. Spring calculated the average cost of a reading specialist would be $80,000, including benefits. Adding the 18 more specialists would require a 3 percent tax levy increase.

“I don’t think that we would be inclined to raise taxes to fill that gap,” Lewis said, adding that the proposed budget already increases the number of specialists substantially. The budget would add 22 of the 40 additional specialists Spring says are needed.

“We’d have a little bit more than half of them,” Lewis said. “Clearly we’re not where we’d like to be … we don’t have a way to solve all our problems. There clearly isn’t a way with our limited finances.”

Spring said he hoped to add additional specialists in next year’s budget, slowly increasing the total.

“People have said, ‘Do you have to do it all at once?’ This is not doing it all at once,” he said.

For now, he said, the district will simply make do with the specialists it would add in the 2013-14 budget.

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