Parents and residents are writing letters asking for more state aid for Schenectady’s impoverished schools, but one of their recipients has already made up his mind.
“Look, the concern in Schenectady is the taxes are too high,” Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, said. “But what about the schools that have no art, no music, no languages?”
Schenectady Superintendent Laurence Spring wants more money to hire reading teachers because half of Schenectady’s elementary students aren’t reading at grade level.
He also wants money for social workers and counselors to help students work through serious mental health problems, which may stem from experiencing domestic violence, unstable living circumstances and the uncertainty created by a life in poverty.
But Farley said he’s more worried about rural school districts, which he said don’t have enough money to offer college-prep classes.
“[Students] can’t get into college because they don’t have the classes,” he said. “We have a lot of rural school districts. They can’t even operate. They can’t even have teachers to teach the basic subjects.”
School board members are writing their own letter appealing for aid, but school officials asked PTO members to also write letters because they feared Farley and others would not believe anyone else.
School board members said they and the teachers would probably be seen as simply wanting to spend more money unnecessarily. They are hoping parents will be taken more seriously when they write about the need for more reading instructors, especially to offer expert help to students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Spring has said the district had to cut back on those instructors as it faced serious budget crunches in recent years.
He complained that state requirements have also kept the district from cutting back on less-essential subjects such as physical education. The Legislature passed a law requiring every student to spend a certain number of minutes per day in gym.
“You can’t say, ‘Oh, there’s no PE Police, you cut what you have to cut, you keep your reading teachers,’ ” Spring said. “No, the Comptroller’s Office has actually audited the number of minutes kids are in the gym.”
He added that he’d rather focus school resources on reading.
“But there’s nothing in law that requires the number of minutes kids spend reading. Or that we have to teach reading,” he said.
Farley has offered to lobby for a reduction in nonessential requirements in an effort to save the district money. But Spring doesn’t want to cut gym — he wants to have the money to do both.
Farley suggested that if more rural schools merge, there might be more money to go around, which could help Schenectady. But for now, he said, the state simply doesn’t have the money.
Spring has suggested changing the state aid formula so that impoverished, high-needs districts get more of the pie than wealthy school districts, but Farley said he should take that up with the governor.
Farley doesn’t even plan to meet with Spring on the issue until after the governor releases his budget proposal.
Spring said he has been asking for a meeting with Farley since May. His appointment is in January.
Farley said he would have been happy to meet with Spring earlier, but there is little point to talking about budget issues before January.
“Until the governor’s budget comes out, you don’t know what you’re doing,” Farley said. “The most substantive meeting [time] is in January.”
He added that letter writers shouldn’t bother to write him.
“I don’t want to say it’s a waste of a stamp but … I’m very aware of the problems,” he said. “They should send them to the governor. The governor’s going to have to lead the way if anything’s going to happen.”