The Schenectady City School District’s top business official, Kimberly Lewis, is set to depart in February, using up her remaining leave time until then, while a group of other district officials manage an ongoing budget crisis.
Lewis’ departure comes as the district continues to navigate immense budget uncertainty in both the current year budget and as officials begin planning for next year’s budget. Lewis held the position of district director of business and finance for nearly a decade.
Interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak last week said the district’s assistant business official, Taryn Breen, and treasurer, Katherine Devine, were working with a consultant through Capital Region BOCES, Steve Zautner, to jointly manage Lewis’ duties. Bochniak said he would take a bigger role in the upcoming budget planning process, which Lewis in past years has led with regular presentations to the school board.
The school board on Nov. 4 approved Lewis’ resignation to take effect Feb. 28. Bochniak said she was using up her unused leave time between now and the end of February.
“We talked about it beforehand, and she wanted to make sure she uses her time before she left,” Bochniak said. “She is available if we need her but not on-site.”
Bochniak said he did not know if the district would restructure existing administrators to fill Lewis’ position, which oversees the district budget and business operations, or hire a new person for the same position.
“We are really looking at this as an opportunity to see, are there people we can promote up… do we want to repost her position, or is there something else we can do?” Bochniak said.
Zautner, who has worked in the North Colonie School Distirct, is listed on the Schenectady district website as interim district director of business and finance. Bochniak said Zautner is working in the district three or four days a week through a contract with the regional BOCES.
At the start of the school year, Lewis and Bochniak oversaw a major financial retrenchment as the district imposed hundreds of layoffs of teachers and support staff in the face of reduced state aid payments and threats from state leaders that massive state aid cuts as big as 20 percent could still hit districts this school year. Fearing the impact of a financial cliff of nearly $30 million in Schenectady, much higher relative to other districts because of Schenectady’s dependence on state aid, district officials sought to cut expenses dramatically before the start of the school year.
It remains unclear whether those aid cuts — or some other form of cut or reduction in state funding to Schenectady — will come to fruition this year as state officials still hold out hope a future deal in Washington will result in more federal stimulus for New York schools. The uncertainty leaves districts still fearing funding cuts sometime before the current year ends July 1 and expecting tight budgets next year and multiple years to come.
Bochniak said Zautner and other business officials are analyzing the actual savings realized by the over 400 staff layoffs, closure of buildings to students and other cost-saving measures taken in August and September; the analysis can serve as a foundation for future budget planning. The traditional public budget planning process for districts begins around January, when the governor outlines his budget proposal, and concludes in May, when districts ask local voters to approve district budgets.
This year promises a mashup of the ongoing, unanswered questions about state funding levels for the current year with preparing for long-term budget cuts.
“I anticipate what we do with this budget to be like nothing we have done before,” Bochniak said of the planning process. “There are more questions at this point than there are answers.”