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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Schenectady school district among most financially stressed

Schenectady school district among most financially stressed

Schenectady schools have been added to another list — this time for “significant fiscal stress.”

Schenectady schools have been added to another list — this time for “significant fiscal stress.”

The state Comptroller’s Office released the list Thursday, in preparation for the upcoming school funding debate in the state Legislature.

Schenectady schools were rated as having the ninth-highest amount of fiscal stress in the state.

District Superintendent Laurence Spring greeted the report with disdain.

“This report smacks of hypocrisy,” he said.

“They only give us 54 percent of the aid we’re supposed to get, and then they issue a report saying, ‘You’re in fiscal stress?’ Yes, because you made that happen. I don’t see the purpose of the report except to say, ‘You’re successfully strangling us.’ ”

A spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office suggested the agency was more sympathetic to Spring’s situation than he might think.

“First of all, our office doesn’t dole out state aid,” said spokesman Brian Butry. “This report was simply done to outline the fiscal challenges our school districts are facing.”

He added that the office wanted to provide useful information for state budget negotiations.

“We want legislators to have an accurate picture” of the fiscal state of certain school districts, Butry said, adding that he expected a “great debate in Albany” about school aid.

“It certainly got great attention last year,” he said.

Spring lobbied hard last year for the state to honor its aid formula. He contends Schenectady gets only 54 percent of what it should get under the state formula. When his lobbying efforts failed, Spring filed a civil rights complaint against the state, alleging it was inadvertently doling out less money to school districts where the majority of students were minorities than it was to mostly white districts.

He said he didn’t think it was deliberate discrimination, suggesting it was reflective of those districts’ lack of representation. None of the state legislators who represent Schenectady, for example, live in the city.

In addition to the complaint, Spring this year is pushing for two possible actions to resolve the issue. He’s suggested giving Schenectady a 20 percent increase in aid for the next three years, which would amount to about $14 million this year.

He’s also suggested the state instead spend $138 million on all of the school districts that are now given less than 60 percent of their aid. That would net Schenectady about $37 million.

He noted the $138 million would be a fraction of the $1 billion Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed adding to school aid this year.

“It really has to be a political solution,” Spring said, though he admitted it would be difficult to persuade politicians.

“It’s not in any politician’s best interests to fix it. It would require the people in power to give up some of the money and give it to us,” he said. “To a large degree, we are the disenfranchised. We don’t have the political influence.”

The Comptroller’s Office put Schenectady on its list of significantly stressed districts largely because it had spent down its reserves. Butry said that situation was the most heavily weighted of all the factors considered in their rating system.

Spring agreed with that assessment.

“I certainly have felt for quite some time that the financial situation of the school district is serious enough to file a civil rights complaint against the governor of New York state,” he said. “I think it’s pretty darn serious.”

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