The Schenectady City School District is warning staff to prepare for at least 100 layoffs this year under a worst-case scenario involving the state budget.
The Schenectady Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, is banking on state and federal aid to prevent the layoffs. The union represents about 900 of the district’s 1,500 employees.
Superintendent Eric Ely said Friday he is telling unions “this is an ugly year” and to prepare for possible triple-digit layoffs and program cuts. He said he is not trying to spread panic but is being realistic based on Gov. David Paterson’s executive budget.
“A lot will depend on what the final budget will be. But based on the governor’s budget, we would go to a contingency budget, and that would mean we would need to cut between $8.5 million and $9 million. You can’t cut $9 million without getting into personnel heavily,” Ely said.
Potential layoffs would hit teachers as well as non-academic staff, said school board President Jeff Janiszewski. “If we have to make the kind of draconian cuts that the governor’s budget proposes, everything is going to be touched,” he said.
Paterson’s budget reduces state aid to school districts by $2.5 billion. State aid accounts on average for 45 percent of a school district’s revenue.
By contract, the district has to notify teachers by April 1 of potential layoffs, Ely said. Any delay by the state in adopting a budget would complicate the issue. The district will begin developing its budget in February. District residents vote on the budget May 19.
Schenectady’s 2008-09 budget is $154 million. Ely said the cost to maintain current programs into the next school year would require an $11 million increase in spending — about 7.6 percent — because of rising salaries, health care and retirement costs.
Two factors will determine Schenectady’s final 2009-2010 budget: whether the state Legislature increases aid to school districts, as it has done traditionally, and whether the state receives a projected $8 billion under a federal stimulus package Congress is negotiating.
Both would offset the Schenectady school district’s need to reduce staff and cut programs, said Carl Korn of New York State United Teachers. “While the proposed executive budget would devastate school programs and likely lead to high numbers of layoffs, nobody should be pushing the panic button yet. There is still time,” he said.
Korn said the state could conceivably receive federal stimulus money by mid-February. No figures are available as to how much each district would receive. Korn said the federal aid would be distributed to school districts based on their poverty statistics.
Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Teachers Federation, said she remains hopeful federal aid will arrive in time.
“My response is that I feel it is premature to project those numbers,” she said.
Nevertheless, teachers are concerned about the state budget’s effect on Schenectady, Benaquisto said. “You have the responsibility to let people know what is going on, but at same time there is a strong level of alarm among the staff,” she said.
School principals started talking layoffs earlier this month, she said.
gains at risk
Benaquisto said the governor’s budget would seriously jeopardize academic gains the district has made in recent years. The district is receiving almost $7 million in extra state aid because of its status as a high-needs district. It is spending the money on reading coaches and a special education instructional coach. They will focus on incorporating reading across all curriculum areas.
Ely said the district can mitigate some of the governor’s proposed cuts, should they come to pass, by using some of its $4.2 million fund balance, by reopening contract negotiations with unions and through other measures. He said he would avoid putting class sizes and remediation services on the table for negotiations. Ely said he would not “pass on these kinds of costs to taxpayers. If taxpayers have been the golden goose for a long time in New York, then the golden goose is tired. We cannot go out and ask our residents to pay more.”
Benaquisto said reopening negotiations would be difficult. Teachers approved a contract last year. It extends the school day by 30 minutes, among other provisions.
“We are not going to make up an $8 million deficit on teachers’ salaries,” she said. “That isn’t going to happen.”
David Albert of the New York State School Boards Association said other school districts in the state are also discussing layoffs as a way to deal with state aid cuts. “Without additional aid, the threat of layoffs is very real,” he said.
“The bottom line is these are significant cuts. In order to maintain the status quo, many districts would have to raise taxes in the double digits,” Albert said. “In this day and age, there is only so much property taxpayers can bear. We hope the state Legislature will come through with aid or the federal government will come through.”