Schenectady school officials expect to receive December state aid payments in full, but interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak on Wednesday indicated the district was still not in a position to rehire staff laid off at the start of the year.
The December payments mark positive news, but Bochniak said the uncertainty surrounding how much state aid the district can ultimately count on this year prevented officials from moving forward with large expenditures to hire back staff, add back programs and reopen schools.
“It’s not about one payment, it’s about all the payments,” Bochniak said. “We have to plan for the whole year.”
The December payment comes shortly after lawyers representing Schenectady parent Jamaica Miles in a broader lawsuit against the state over its education funding system, which includes parents from other districts across the state, filed a motion for an injunction barring the state from carrying out threatened aid cuts. The motion was tailored specifically to the Schenectady City School District, which in the fall laid off over 400 staff members and cut numerous programs after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said state school aid for the current year would have to be cut 20 percent if the state did not receive new federal aid.
Some aid payments at the start of the school year, including payments to Schenectady, did come in lower than what districts expected, and those funds have not been restored. But state officials have fully funded the last few months of aid payments.
While state officials have called Schenectady’s budget cuts premature and sought to shift focus to the inaction of federal lawmakers, school districts are nearly halfway through their current budget year without knowing if state officials will reduce aid before the year is out. Bochniak said you can’t pay an employee on the hope that state officials won’t have to carry out aid cuts those officials have said may be necessary.
The Times-Union on Wednesday reported that state officials indicated the December payments would be fully funded for school districts across the state.
Greg Little, a lead attorney representing Miles and other parents in the state, on Wednesday said news of the aid payments was a positive development but that the motion was seeking to garner the action necessary to restore the positions cut in Schenectady. Since the broader lawsuit contends the state was failing to adequately fund Schenectady schools prior to the onset of the pandemic and subsequent state fiscal crisis, the injunction aims to preserve the status quo of the district’s staff and program levels prior to the layoffs imposed earlier this year.
“The purpose of the injunction was to restore Schenectady to the position it was in prior to the threats being made,” Little said. “It remains to be seen whether these payments have done that.”
Little said a conference with the state’s attorneys and judge in the case scheduled for Wednesday was postponed until Tuesday.