Cutting $10 million from the Schenectady City School District’s already-threadbare budget won’t be easy.
With district reserves depleted and costs continuing to increase, Superintendent Laurence Spring said he’s without simple options to create savings in the budget. And that means the district will need to make some very tough decisions when it comes to filling the budget gap.
“We’re going to have to make decisions that are not typical,” he said. We’re going to have to do some things that are really going to redefine to some extent what school means.”
This could mean the wholesale elimination of programs, like full-day kindergarten, or drastically slashing the library staff. Perhaps closing down the school district’s pool or cutting its gifted-and-talented program.
None of the cuts will be easy, Spring assured, which is why the district is now hoping taxpayers will weigh in during a series of budget workshops starting at 6 p.m. Monday evening at Howe Early Childhood Education Center, 1065 Baker Ave. Those attending the workshops will get a 12-page workbook in which they can choose from 100 points they feel would be the least damaging to eliminate or reduce at the district.
“We are already down to the bare bones and now everything we have is on the table,” Spring said. “We have very difficult decisions and need our parents and community members to come to the table.”
The district has already cut $30 million in spending in various areas over the past three years. But these have been balanced by spending increases in other areas, and the current $159 million budget is not $30 million smaller but about the same as the budget of two years ago.
Spring said the district is getting about $60 million less than it should in state aid, which makes forging a budget nearly impossible without drastically raising taxes or cutting spending.
“We have students living in intense poverty who experience food insecurity. Some students have unstable home environments and are starting school well behind their peers in other places. Many of our students have tremendous mental health needs,” he said. “Our children cannot afford any of the cuts that our district is facing.”
The looming cuts also mean the district will most likely fall out of compliance with some state mandates. Spring said he wants to give people a broad sense of the unenviable position facing the district with the cuts.
“Any single one of them will be really difficult,” he said. “[The budget is] at a place where we have to consider all things at this point. There’s no avoiding it.”
Meanwhile, the district is waiting to learn whether the civil rights complaint it filed against the state will be taken up by the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint alleges the state’s school-aid formula is unintentionally implemented in a way that schools with mostly minority students get less assistance than predominantly white schools.
“If we were getting anything close to what we’re supposed to be getting, we wouldn’t be talking about what we’re going to have to cut,” Spring said.
District officials were contacted by the federal Office of Civil Rights for several clarifications in the complaint. Spring said they did not ask about the racial component of the complaint, which might mean they feel it’s clear.
“I feel pretty confident they’re going to take that aspect on at the very least,” he said.