After closing a middle school, changing every school’s hours and reducing the availability of electives at the high school, the Schenectady City School District Board of Education unanimously adopted its 2012-13 budget Wednesday.
The $156 million budget includes a tax levy slightly smaller than this year, but because property assessments have gone down, taxes will likely go up. The amount has not yet been calculated, as assessment challenges continue to change the city’s total value.
Board members struggled to cut enough expenses to meet the state’s new tax cap, which was made harder when the drop in assessments meant the tax levy could not go up at all.
The board approved closing Oneida Middle School, moving students to many other schools, over the complaints of some parents.
Other savings came from starting elementary schools an hour earlier and secondary schools later. That has complicated some parents’ child care plans because older children won’t be able to walk younger siblings home.
The high school is changing significantly, starting later except for students who want to take electives at 7:30 a.m. That means fewer students will take electives — and the schedule is far less flexible, so fewer electives are available to each student.
But, board members said, it’s better than cutting art, music, athletics and other “extras.”
“This budget represented a tremendous amount of creativity, as opposed to just whacking,” board member Andrew Chestnut said.
Member Diane Herrmann told outgoing interim Superintendent John Yagielski that his proposals were better than she’d expected.
“I think this budget, though I’m not happy with it and I don’t want to cut any programs, it’s nothing short of a miracle you were able to find this much money without increasing class sizes or any of the other terrible things.”
Still, closing schools and changing schedules were done for the wrong reasons, member Gary Farkas said.
“We’re making decisions on financial reasons, not educational reasons,” he said.
Member Cheryl Nechamen added that parents should complain to their state legislators. The state considers school boards “just self-serving,” she said, and thus won’t listen to their appeals for more aid, fewer requirements or relief from the tax cap.
At the meeting, Yagielski also dispelled a rumor that the budget would reduce middle-school music and art classes.
He speculated that teachers heard he was trying to find ways to add foreign language in seventh grade. Students must take two years of foreign language to pass ninth grade, but students who need extra help in seventh grade don’t have space in their schedule for language. That puts them behind on graduation requirements before even entering high school, while other students finish their language requirement in middle school.
One possibility considered was to cut back to state minimums in arts and music, Yagielski said. But that wasn’t enough to make room for language, so the plan was dropped for now.
Several art and music teachers came to Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the rumor and were relieved to hear that no changes are planned for next year.