Schenectady — The Schenectady City School District’s 2021-2022 school year budget is likely to include nearly $3.7 million in new programs and staff, including an effort to lower the largest elementary class sizes and expand a new department focused on diversity and equity.
Interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak outlined a draft budget proposal at Wednesday night’s virtual school board meeting. The proposal, which first returns the district staffing to levels before layoffs in the fall, would also add another nearly 40 positions to the district.
The proposal would add 12 teachers to the middle school level to enable a shift to eight-period school days, giving students more scheduling flexibility. Five new attendance deans would be focused on improving student attendance. Six elementary school teachers would be used to reduce class sizes in places with the largest classes. Five positions would restore content-area specialists to the central office curriculum and instruction staff. Six positions would expand a recently-created central office equity, diversity and inclusion staff; the positions include a family and community specialist, a staff engagement specialist, a student engagement specialist and a project manager. Five restorative justice coaches would work on the district’s constructive approach to student discipline.
The plan calls for no tax levy increase, maintaining the district’s $51.4 million local tax levy for the third straight year.
Bochniak said as the district works on next year’s budget, which goes up for voter approval May 18, officials are planning on a return of students to in-person classes, though it’s not clear what precautions districts will still need to have in place.
“The district is anticipating a full-return to school for September 2021,” according to the budget presentation.
Schenectady scored some positive developments in the budget lawmakers passed earlier this month. The state budget lifted the state core education funding formula by $1.4 billion, boosting Schenectady’s haul of state foundation aid by nearly $11 million. Lawmakers also wrote into the budget a promise – though not yet funded – to fully fund foundation aid over three years, which would mean around $15 million additional state aid to Schenectady each of next two years.
But like other district leaders, Bochniak tempered expectations that the foundation aid funding for future years is guaranteed coming to the district. He said lawmakers will ultimately need to come up with revenue to make good on the funding promise.
“That could change because the ability of the state being able to do that is contingent on the revenue being available for them to do it,” Bochniak said.
The budget plan also accounts for $8.2 million in so-called rollover expenses, rising costs due to inflation and contractually-required salary increases. The increase in funding first covers the rollover expenses and can then go to new investments – like the almost 40 positions Bochniak outlined Wednesday.
None of the budget plan, though, accounts for the nearly $60 million in federal aid the district expects to have to spend over the next four school years. While districts must publish a plan by July 1 outlining how they intend to spend the federal aid, Bochniak said he was awaiting more specific guidance from state officials on what that process should entail. He said district officials were focused on next school year’s general fund budget before revisiting how to spend the federal aid.
“We are putting it on a shelf right now,” Bochniak said figuratively of the federal money.
The board did not adopt a budget proposal to put up for voter approval at Wednesday’s meeting, but the board is scheduled to meet again this month.