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Schenectady school district struggles to find savings

Schenectady school district struggles to find savings

Closing the Oneida Middle School, restructuring the schedule at Schenectady High School and modifyin

Closing the Oneida Middle School, restructuring the schedule at Schenectady High School and modifying the pre-kindergarten program would help trim roughly $4.5 million from the projected 2012-2013 budget, but still leave the district with a $2.5 million gap.

The current year’s budget is $153.6 million.

Superintendent John Yagielski said the maximum allowable increase to the levy under the state’s property tax cap means the district will need to decrease its budget by about 0.2 percent before even taking into consideration the increase caused by non-discretionary spending. He said a recent payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with General Electric resulted in a lower property tax levy.

“It’s a 0.2 percent decrease,” he said during the Board of Education’s meeting Wednesday. Taking this into consideration, Yagielski advised that the only reasonable way to craft the upcoming budget was to remain within the tax cap. And to that, the district will need to shave $7 million.

Revenues are expected to drop by about $2.9 million. Meanwhile, expenditures are estimated to increase by $4.1 million, according to district figures.

Reorganizing the district’s two middle schools by closing Oneida would save about $1.3 million in operating expenses. The change would also save the district from spending $2.9 million in repairs to Oneida, but Yagielski said that funding couldn’t be used to offset the budget deficit.

Meanwhile, Yagielski said the resources pulled from the closure could help bolster the offerings at the “new” Mont Pleasant Middle School.

For instance, the reorganized Mont Pleasant could include high school-level courses that are not offered there now. Yagielski said staff transferred from Oneida would help expand the variety of courses without incurring any additional cost to the district.

“Sometimes you have to look at the positives,” he said.

The reorganization would also increase the capacity at the magnet schools at Central Park and Martin Luther King. Yagielski said seventh graders displaced by the Oneida closure would get a chance at the new spots, as would some sixth graders at the Elmer, Paige, Woodlawn, Yates and Zoller elementary schools.

The high school schedule would also be reorganized so that most students would start the day at 8:30 a.m. and attend classes until dismissal at 3:30 p.m. Students that needed additional course work could come to school an hour early for what Yagielski called a “pre-session” of classes.

Elementary and K-8 schools would be shifted to come in and dismiss earlier. The change in hours would result in a reduction of seven buses, saving the district $200,000.

In general, Yagielski said students he spoke with are receptive to the so-called extended schedule. He said some teachers expressed a bit of skepticism.

“It’s going to be one of those touchy issues because it represents change,” he said.

Changes to the pre-kindergarten system would shift all of the classes to Howe and Blodgett, while removing them from Fulton. The result would be the shedding of eight jobs and a reduction in transportation costs that would combine to save the district $575,000.

Yagielski said the budget shortfall is driving all of the changes now being considered by the district. He said all of them preserve the programs being offered without resorting to draconian cuts.

“We really have pretty much exhausted what we can do,” he said. “And we have a ways to go.”

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