When it comes to educating children, it all starts with reading. And a whole lot of kids in the Schenectady school district read poorly or don’t comprehend what they read — a scary 60 percent, according to test scores.
Once, the response might have been hiring more reading specialists to work with these kids and try to get them at least up to grade level. But this isn’t the past. In recent years, the financially challenged district has actually reduced the number of reading specialists to today’s total of 36.
Superintendent Laurence Spring wants to add more, but there’s the small matter of finances. State aid to the district is far below what it should be based on a formula the state agreed to after a court decision, Spring has shown. And the district once again is facing a big — as in $8 million — budget deficit next school year.
So with or without a tax increase, which School Board President Cathy Lewis is not interested in (the board doesn’t necessarily have to go along), there’s not enough money to go around, let alone add a large number of reading specialists.
Lewis’ proposed solution is to get more volunteers to work with kids on their reading. That sounds good, but it’s easy to throw out an idea and another to actually see it through and make it work.
If there is to be a serious effort to have a volunteer reading program in place by September — and there should be — it has to start right now. Thought must be given to how to recruit, train and assign volunteers; what to ask and expect of them; how best to use them and the reading specialists. There will have to be coordination and consistency among schools.
If the program were well organized, and they felt they had a chance to really make a difference, many Schenectady residents would probably answer the call. Lewis should own her idea and make it her business to see that the district has a real plan for a volunteer reading corps — soon.