City residents approved the Schenectady City School District budget on Tuesday, but many of those who voted for it did so reluctantly.
“We have to vote yes because we don’t want any more cuts,” said resident Heather Walker. “I am very concerned by the amount of special education cuts. It’s setting up the students for failure.”
She, like many others, said the school board was wrong to cut 76 special education aides. The board decided to spend that money on teacher training, reading instructors, social workers and psychologists.
But most people voted in favor despite any objections they might have. The budget passed by a landslide — 1,101 in favor to 414 against — in unoffi cial results.
Voters also re-elected board President Cathy Lewis with 1,022 votes and Vice President Ann Reilly with 1,046 votes, and chose Ed Kosiur to fill a vacant seat on the board. He won with 860 votes.
The $159.3 million budget includes a 1 percent tax levy increase, which will be used to avoid proposed arts and music cuts. For the owner of the average Schenectady house assessed at $101,000, the increase will be $22.45, for a total tax bill of $2,198.
After the vote, Superintendent Laurence Spring offered a defense of the controversial cut of special education aides. He emphasized no aides to individual students will be cut and there will still be hundreds of aides in the district.
“The places where most of our paras are going to be reduced are where we have redundancy,” he said. “Places where we could have given people additional training, we instead added paras.”
Some of the money from the aides will be used to hire behavioral specialists, who will create classroom plans to help problematic students behave correctly.
“It’s far more effective than having someone sit next to a child, correcting their behavior,” he said.
But Walker, who has a child with autism, said special education students need classroom aides. Others said the board should have found another way to hire more social workers, instead of cutting aides.
“I’ll tell you how to get them back,” said resident Albert DelVeccio, who voted yes despite his opposition to the controversial decision. “They want to hire psychologists, counselors, social workers. They’re free if you go into the colleges. If you’re going for your [master of social work degree], they have to do two days [a week] in the fi eld the first year and three days a week the second year.”
But others said they were pleased the board pared back the number of aides cut. Originally, 115 aides were to be cut; the fi nal fi gure was 76.
“They just seemed to be not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” said Susan Hover, who voted yes. “They spent a lot of time. I like that time spent. Let’s face it, it’s a thankless job.”
Others were happy the board added a 1 percent tax hike to pay for arts programs that were on the chopping block.
“I was glad they kept the fi ne arts program intact,” said resident Joyce McEvoy, who voted yes. “It offers the children a different path.”
But some residents were adamantly opposed to the budget — not because of the cut in aides but because of the tax increase.
“Our taxes are plenty high,” said resident Bob Gough, who voted no.
Others said they thought money was being misspent. Resident Molly Neary noted the district is renting several elementary schools, but closed the large Oneida Middle School, which it owns. She voted no on the budget.
“I don’t want my taxes to go up,” she said.