Schenectady school board members began taking a hard look at cuts Wednesday, but even with making some painful choices, they’re still $4.5 million short. Their goal is to get to a budget of $181.7 million.
The district needs to cut $10.3 million in total to create a balanced budget, after paying for contractual raises, health insurance and pension increases, and other unavoidable costs.
The cuts proposed so far include reducing art and music for grades K-6, which would save just more than $1 million.
Another $98,000 could be saved if band and orchestra didn’t start until sixth grade, rather than fourth.
But some board members objected to the arts cuts.
“I don’t see cuts in sports at all. And we didn’t cut sports last year,” said board member Cheryl Nechamen.
She added that early music instruction is essential.
“There’s no substitute for that. Losing those two years of learning how to play an instrument, you’re not going to make it up in high school.”
The proposed cuts also include eliminating 10 librarians and replacing them with aides, for a savings of $570,000.
Also on the chopping block are all of the additional resources for the magnet schools, which fund foreign language instruction in elementary school, among other items. The savings: $219,000.
At the middle-school level, the proposed cuts would violate state education requirements. Technology and FACS (home economics) would be reduced, saving $402,000.
At the high school, the board is considering $1.9 million in cuts. Among the more controversial proposals are increasing class sizes, eliminating the remedial 10-P program for students who failed ninth grade, eliminating the attendance dean and reducing the number of earth science labs.
The board is also considering cutting three guidance counselors ($207,000); running a VoTec program in-house for special education students ($148,616); and cutting two people in the central office ($148,678).
Members think they could save $120,000 by reducing the use of substitutes. But that isn’t enough. Pages of cuts added up only to $5.8 million, barely half of what must be cut.
Board President Cathy Lewis said she’s now holding out hope for more state aid — at least $4.5 million.
“Maybe I should be optimistic and hope for the whole $10.3 million,” she said.
The board will meet again next Wednesday to work further on the budget.