Schenectady school budget: What you are voting on

Residents head to polls Tuesday
Superintendent Larry Spring.
Superintendent Larry Spring.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Tuesday’s school budget vote will ask residents to approve three things: a $186 million spending plan, a $64.5 million capital project and a new reserve fund to finance that project.

Here’s a closer look:

$186 million budget

This year’s proposed spending plan boosts the district’s overall budget by $8.7 million – or 4.26 percent – while cutting the tax levy by $1.1 million – or 2.04 percent.

Thanks to an increase in state funding, the school board’s adopted budget adds $5.7 million in new programs and services, including dozens of new teachers amid 66 new positions.

The plan establishes a general education “continuum” that will focus extra services on struggling students who don’t qualify for special education, while also expanding student electives, ramping up training and mentoring for teachers, and growing the district workforce.

The district plans to boost overall staff by 66 positions, including around 40 teachers and seven social workers and school psychologists. Each of the district’s three middle schools will receive a third assistant principal.

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When he presented the budget proposal to the school board last month, Superintendent Larry Spring called the budget a “watershed” moment in his tenure, representing the first major expansion of student services and substantive tax cut after a few years of cutting the budget and advocating for increased state aid.

The 2 percent tax levy cut reduces the overall amount of money the district collects in taxes; tax rates are set later.

Voters are only asked to approve the district general fund – $186 million. The overall district budget tops $213 million.

“The budget affords us to take some pretty significant steps to closing program gaps and allows us to take a substantive step toward taxpayer relief,” Spring said last month. “This is pretty exciting for us to be able to do.”

A “respite” room model – which provides struggling students with a single, small-size classroom and access to social workers and content-area teachers – currently located at the high school and one middle school grows under the proposal. The high school will establish its second respite room – currently operating under the banner Operation Graduation – a second middle school room will be created and two new elementary respite rooms will be established. The elementary rooms will serve around 80 students from across the district.

The budget also funds a “mobile crisis response team” that will be staffed by a psychiatric nurse practitioner and two clinical social workers and respond to students in urgent need of mental health support – students potentially on the verge of harming themselves.

$64.5 million capital project

The second phase of a long-term plan to renovate and upgrade district schools will turn the attention to elementary schools.

The project aims to address millions of dollars in needed repairs and replacement to core building systems, with the majority of the work being focused at five elementary schools: Hamilton, Martin Luther King, Pleasant Valley, Woodlawn and Yates.

Those schools will also receive renovations and updates to classrooms and other educational spaces. The building will also be organized to more easily divide public spaces – gyms and main offices, for example – from classroom areas.

Along with the infrastructure upgrades, the basic organizational layout and classroom design of those schools would be improved. Under plans presented to the school board in March, classrooms will be better organized and grouped by grade level; hallways will be extended; secure entranceways will be established; and classroom spaces will be updated to improve layout, appearance and acoustics.

District officials have said the project – largely thanks to a high state reimbursement rate – will result in “no increase” in local taxes.

Capital reserve fund

Voters will also be asked to authorize the creation of a capital reserve fund, so the district can squirrel away $2 million in reserves by the time payments on the project’s debt come due.

Along with a state reimbursement rate around 95 percent and the use of other state funds, the capital reserve will make it possible for the district to pay off the project without raising the local tax levy, Spring told school members before they approved to putting the project up for voter approval.

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