SCHENECTADY — Dozens of positions lost during the pandemic would be brought back and additional guidance counselors and school safety officer positions would be created under a draft $242 million spending plan unveiled by the city’s school district Wednesday.
The draft budget represents a 10.79%, or $23 million, spending increase over the current $218 million spending plan while keeping taxes flat for the third consecutive fiscal year.
The uptick in spending comes from an expected $17 million increase in state aid, utilizes $4 million in repair reserves to upgrade facilities and relies on federal coronavirus-relief funds to close a $3.5 million budget gap. The district is expecting $238 million in revenue, including $58 million in local taxes, according to the draft plan.
Terrance Gillooley, the district’s chief financial officer, said his office is still processing funding requests and noted it’s possible that spending can increase by as much as $1 million before being finalized. Additional spending, he noted, would be covered by coronavirus relief funds.
The district has taken a new zero-based budget approach this year instead of rolling over spending requests from previous years. Administrators have been meeting with building principals to compile a “wish list” of spending items for each school.
Gillooley said he is still processing spending requests for the high school, but noted the district’s elementary and middle schools are seeking $1.1 million in new equipment, $347,000 for student activities including field trips and $768,200 for teachers to purchase classroom supplies, among other things.
A more detailed breakdown is expected to be reviewed next month.
“It really gave [building administrators] an opportunity to have input in their budget with what they’re able to identify as a need in their building and hopefully with the dollar amount that we’re proposing we’ll be able to support their whole wish list or a majority of it,” Gillooley said.
The draft budget represents a significant step in bringing back 71 full-time positions that the district was forced to eliminate due to financial constraints brought on by the pandemic.
Those laid off have since received an opportunity to come back and the district has set aside funding to hire 41 positions that remain vacant, Gillooley said.
Plans call for filling four vacant assistant principal positions, hiring eight additional librarians as well as two speech therapists and three special education teachers.
Money has also been set aside to purchase additional student laptops and improve technology within schools.
The district is also planning to utilize $4 million in repair reserve funds to make numerous upgrades to its facilities, including $1.8 million to upgrade tennis courts and playing fields at the high school, $400,000 for water drainage work at Yates Elementary School and $350,000 for boiler upgrades at Fulton Elementary School, according to the plan.
In addition, the plan includes $300 for each teacher to purchase classroom supplies and there are hopes to provide funding to accommodate supplies for students in the district.
“We’re trying to avoid parent supply lists,” Gillooley said. “Hopefully be able to allocate enough funds per building where we’re going to supply every student with their supplies.”
The draft budget would also set aside money for student support services and address security concerns within the district.
On Wednesday, the Board of Education narrowly approved a contract with the city’s police department to expand a community engagement officer program to include six officers, including two at the high school, one at each middle school and a floating supervisor position for the next three academic years.
The contract comes at a maximum cost to the district of up to $300,000 for the first year with a 2% increase each year after. The contract can be terminated by the district at any point with a 30-day written notice.
Seven attendance paraprofessionals would be hired as well as six school counselors, two social workers and four restorative practice specialists, ensuring that every school in the district has at least one counselor. The district is projecting to have 60 social workers and 39 school counselors throughout the district for the upcoming school year, according to the plan.
The plan also calls for an increased presence of hall monitors and security officers.
An additional security monitor and community and cultural engagement specialist would be placed in each elementary school. The district’s three middle schools would each see an additional safety officer and community and cultural engagement specialist as well as two security monitors.
A total of six security monitors and seven safety officers would be placed in the high school. Eight community and culture engagement specialists would also be hired, according to the draft budget.
Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. said the draft budget works to address student needs while being sensitive to ongoing hardships facing the community.
“We want to be sensitive,” he said. “We know inflation is real and gas prices are going up.”
The draft budget will be discussed again during the April 6 Board of Education meeting.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.