Schenectady residents will be voting on whether to increase taxes by 2.75 percent this May.
The school board on Wednesday unanimously approved a $164.3 million budget with deep cuts. The budget, if approved by voters, would raise taxes by about $60 annually for a housed assessed at $100,000, the school district said
The board backed away from all of the most serious proposed cuts, including those for K-6 art and music, eliminating librarians and athletics, and cutting back below state minimums for middle school technology and home economics classes.
None of those items were cut in the proposed budget.
Board member John Foley said he was concerned by a large tax increase because it would hit the poorest residents the hardest.
Home owners will get a state rebate this fall that will equal the tax increase, but renters will not.
“These increases get passed on [to renters],” Foley said. “I think we need to take that into consideration.”
Board member Ann Reilly agreed, but said she would prefer the tax increase to cutting arts and the other controversial items.
“I can’t see going there,” she said.
Instead, Superintendent Laurence Spring proposed the tax increase and $500,000 more in mainly administrative cuts.
“These are some we should do anyway,” he said.
He said workers who spend some time in the cafeteria can be partly paid through the food service budget, and that the district can live without replacing a retiring secretary.
He also said the district can schedule music classes more efficiently, saving $20,000.
A “flex” music program is also proposed for elimination.
“Flex music was something music teachers said doesn’t work, please get rid of that,” Spring said.
He also called for the elimination of a messenger position and the Friday late bus.
Board members were worried by two other proposed cuts, but reluctantly decided to go ahead with them.
Those were saving $205,000 by getting teachers to use less energy and fewer substitutes, and letting students substitute athletics for gym class.
Spring said he wasn’t sure how much would be saved in either case, because he’s not sure he can convince teachers to change and he doesn’t know how many students will take the athletics option.
“It’s kind of like buying a suit because you’re going to lose 20 pounds,” he said.
The board also agreed last week on many other cuts, including all magnet school resources, eliminating two foreign languages at the middle school level, and reducing social workers.
Residents filled the high school’s Black Box Theater for the final decision, and several athletes spoke passionately about their sports.
Student Michael Moore urged the board to raise taxes instead of cutting athletics. Other students vowed to campaign for the budget with a tax increase.
Some students said they had a chance for an athletic scholarship — but not if they can’t play next year.
“If you cut these sports, you will be holding me back,” student Alex Martinez said.
One resident told the board to start over.
Carol Lupo said the proposed budget cuts “lack creativity and guts.”
She called for fundraisers with Schenectady businesses and for charging parents for services, including busing, extracurricular activities and summer school.
“We need to be proactive, not reactive,” she said.
Board members, too, said they need to find more solutions.
“We’re going to face the same issue next year,” said board member Ron Lindsay.